Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on writtalin.com.
It’s been a rough week. Not the roughest I’ve ever had, and Lord knows there will probably, unfortunately, be rougher ones in the future, but it has been a difficult week nonetheless. There are times in life when we are harshly reminded of the fragility, the absolute ephemerality of this existence we so often take for granted, and we are jolted into the recognizance of our own mortality. It’s jarring really. It’s never expected, it’s impossible to prepare for, it’s never easier no matter how many times it happens: when someone you know is taken away far earlier than you’d ever imagined, you’re left grasping for answers in a universe that never provides any. I created this site to be a place for fun diversions, but sometimes events transpire that require a more serious discussion. This is one of those times, and I hope it’s the last one.
I went to a small high school in a small town, a ski resort town, in a locale that had earned the moniker “Happy Valley.” Vail, Colorado. For those of you not familiar with the area, Vail is the Disneyland of ski resorts, an adult playground filled with happiness, adventure and rollicking good times. At least until recently.
I graduated with about 150 kids. Most of us came from affluent families, and on commencement day, the whole world was laid out before us — ours for the taking. We were supposed to be the movers and shakers: executives, doctors, lawyers, politicians and celebrities. We had been given every blessing 18-year-old kids could ask for. Despite all the failures and foibles we’d had in high school, we’d be just fine. We had the auspices of being young, wealthy and supported. We had grown up in a town free of crime, raised in families free of poverty and enrolled in schools that had no use for metal detectors. We’d turn out all right, and more; we would be the next generation of successful ski bums, raise children of our own and die surrounded by our beloved mountains, old and content. That was the plan.
A wrench in the gears
That plan was derailed on March 18, 2011. That was the morning I found out that one of my high school best friends, Todd Walker, had died. But it was worse than that. He hadn’t had some unfortunate accident; he had been murdered. I had trouble accepting it. I didn’t want to believe it. Instead, I pounded Johnny Walker like it was lifeblood and listened to sad music in my apartment. I was a mess for the better part of a month, and frankly, in a lot of ways, I’m still recovering from the phone call I received that morning. My outlook on life changed that day.
I’d known Todd since I was 5 years old. We’d been teammates, classmates and friends for as far back as my young memory could recall. He was vivacious, hilarious and so exciting to be around. But he was gone. He would never reach his dreams, he would never become a father, never embark on a career and never grace the whole world with his infectious personality. Back in 2008, I knew Todd, with all his charisma and thirst for life, would amount to something special. But it was not to be. Expectations and reality are often two different realms, something which I learned that day.
After we lost Todd, all of his friends near and far rallied. The community rallied. We got through it, although we knew we’d never be the same again. The innocence of Happy Valley had been forever shattered, losing one of its brightest young stars. We adjusted, we did what we always have to do: Keep moving forward.
Two months later, another one of the 150 I graduated with died. His name was Graham. We were never particularly close, but I had still known him for the better part of my (at the time) 20 years.
That’s the thing with small towns: You’re all in it together. Everyone knows everyone, and every isolated occurrence affects the core of the community. Again, we were all faced with the stark realization that a long life isn’t a guarantee. Hell, it’s not even a privilege that’s earned. It’s a lucky break that not everyone gets. I resolved to take control of as much as I could in this fragile life.
A community, shattered
More than 2 1/2 years had gone by since my community was rocked by the deaths of two far-too-young members of the Class of 2008. Memorial funds were set up, gatherings were held, Todd’s tragedy was resolved in court, and life had begun to return to normal in the Happy Valley. Until last Tuesday.
Vail was founded by Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton in 1962. Pete Seibert was quite possibly the best-known figure in the Vail area, and after his death in 2002, his legacy lived on through his eldest son, Pete Jr., who remained in the Vail Valley, and Pete Jr.’s four children. One of those children was Anthony “Tony” Seibert.
I first met Tony Seibert in the first grade, and we became fast friends. We were classmates, teammates and partners-in-crime throughout much of elementary and middle school. Although we weren’t as close in high school, we were certainly on good terms, and we remained so after graduation. I went to school at UCSB in California, and Tony stayed close to the mountains in which his family’s legacy was so entrenched. We saw each other occasionally during the past few years, more frequently once I moved back to Colorado in 2011. It wouldn’t be accurate to say we were close friends, like I was with Todd, but we shared a bond and a familiarity that had been earned over damn near 20 years of camaraderie.
Last Tuesday, Tony was killed in an avalanche on the mountain his family built. He went out doing what he loved, which is what many of us would love to say. But still, he was taken far too soon, with far too many goals, dreams and potentialities left unfulfilled. This was a crushing loss for Vail, the town that the Seibert family brought into existence. This was a crushing loss for Tony’s friends, and most of all, his family. This was a crushing loss for my peers and me, both in the fantastic young man we lost, and yet again in the loss of the peace of mind, sensibility and safety. And again, we have no choice but to move forward.
So why am I telling you all of this? Why am I spilling my personal tragedies for strangers to read? Because these stories aren’t isolated incidents. The world doesn’t care about you, your friends, your family, your dreams. Far better men and women than me have failed to make it as far down the road of life as I have. There’s no sensibility, no fairness, no rhyme or reason.
There is no way things should be, that’s fantasy. Things just are.
The point is, if all of this tragedy has come out of my tiny town, my tiny high school, and the bubble of Vail, Colorado, most of you have probably lost someone far too early too. But we are still here. We are young. We are vibrant. And we have so much to accomplish.
The best way to honor those who didn’t make it to today is to live every single day. And I don’t mean going through the motions. Live every day for those who can’t. The minor annoyances of our day-to-day struggles can drag all of us down. But when that happens, just think how good you really have it. You’re alive. You can read this. You can laugh, cry, sing, dance and shout. The world is yours today.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow is never guaranteed, as I, and I’m sure many of you, have learned in coming-of-age. You can take every health tip and safety measure the world has to offer, but you are still at the disposal of a universe that doesn’t owe you anything.
So, remember that. Today is all you have. Stop wasting your time. Get off your ass and go outside. Appreciate all the miraculous beauty this world has to offer. Kiss a gorgeous girl. Watch a sunset. Eat those delicious French fries without feeling guilty. Listen to a kick-ass song. And most of all, tell your family and friends you love them. Every. Single. Day.
Today, this moment, is all that’s promised. Act like it. Live.
Ascher Robbins is the founder, CEO and editor-in-chief at Writtalin. He is a University of California at Santa Barbara graduate and a Vail native.
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