One of the most challenging incongruities of humanity is that tragedy and death are often the greatest sources of unity. As people, we expend so much effort focusing on ourselves and our own battles that little time is dedicated to exploring the difficulties of others. That is, until those difficulties become so overwhelming or pronounced that we cannot help but take notice.
Prior to this week, I had never noticed Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer club. In fact, there really wasn’t any reason that I would have even heard of the Verdão. Though the club is beloved by its hometown fans, Brazilian soccer isn’t exactly known for its worldwide brands or its international stars. Few Série A competitors ever go on to hear their names sung out in awe at legendary stadiums like Camp Nou, Old Trafford or San Siro. Unfortunately, the most common fate of Brazil’s top-flight players is simply to fade into the background as small footnotes in soccer’s rich history books.
However, tragedy often has its way of cementing memories, drawing attention to the unseen and bringing light to those shrouded in darkness. On Monday night, misfortune struck Chapecoense in the worst imaginable fashion. The charter plane carrying the team to compete in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final crashed, killing all but six of its 77 passengers and ending the lives of all but three players. It pains me to realize that had it not been for their deaths, I never would have seen this team and its community in the light that it so deserved.
Moments like the Chapecoense crash touch us so deeply because they force us to contend with the fleeting nature of our own lives. At any moment, we too could be struck down by tragedy or have those we call friends, loved ones or, in case of many young Verdão fans, heroes taken away from us. When the unforeseen materializes, we begin to question the difference between the hours we’ve spent dedicated to our jobs or education and the time devoted to fortifying our places in the memories of the people we love.
I choose not to focus on the details of the crash or to make light of this disaster through sensationalism. The men and women who died in that accident deserve to be remembered for the joy that they brought to their community and not for their deaths, which finally brought that joy to our attention. Should my own words ever reach the ears of those few who survived, I want them to be ones that honor the lives of the deceased.
Therefore, let us turn instead to the lesson learned from those who we have lost. The men of Chapecoense, a club now forever tied to a memory of calamity, passed away while making their boyhood dreams a reality. En route to the biggest match in the club’s history, these men prepared themselves to shoulder an entire community’s expectations and bring home the shiniest chunk of silverware in the clubhouse trophy room. Though all of them went far before their time, these men have shown us the importance of making the most of our time on earth.
Life is short; death, far longer. In the grand scheme of things, we have precious little time with those who make our lives special, and even less time to bring about something good. When my great-aunt passed away five years ago, I took comfort in the knowledge that the last three words I ever said to her were, “I love you.” Given how brief life is and how quickly it can be taken from us, why do we insist so often upon holding on to hate, prejudice and anger?
If the men and women who died aboard that plane could give us one piece of lasting advice, I expect that it would be to spend your life doing what you love. Whether that is playing soccer, working as a journalist, coaching, singing or teaching matters less than the happiness that you gain from it. As morbid as it might sound, we rarely have as much time as we think we do.
So, make every day count and leave no chances untaken. Remember that it is often life’s most important words that go unsaid. And, most of all, spend more energy loving your friends than hating your enemies. I think we owe it to the men of Chapecoense to do as much with our lives as possible and to pursue the same joy that so many of them were fortunate enough to experience.
Marc Cugnon is a senior in Calhoun College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .