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Vail Daily column: What it means to be alive

“Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” — Marcus Aurelius

A week ago a banker died. He had served this community and communities like it for decades. He was the kind of banker that the clients loved and other bankers feared. He was also one of my mentors and friends.



There was no parade, and it didn’t make the news. Among those of us who worked with him, the death was at once a shock and an inexplicable injustice. Bill had retired only a few short months ago.

This week, I found myself asking what it means to be alive. I’ve always liked to think that we should be living our lives in such a way that we could be convicted in court of having lived.

So Much More Life to Live



I was saddened, not because he had not lived while he was alive, but because he had so much more life in him. I was also saddened to acknowledge that some of his strongest relationships were with the people with whom he worked. He had, of course, chosen this, but the truth regarding the solitude of his life was inescapable. He had wed the lending industry. No children. I would dare say that those that knew him best were his peers, and with irony not lost on me, the long-tenured credit analyst who sits by my side now among them.

I will never forget sitting on the patio at Pazzo’s and commiserating shortly after he left the team. I will also never forget calling him in a panic one day regarding a situation with a difficult client. I didn’t know what to do, and was afraid of not having a resolution to a problem, because, well … that’s my job. He told me to tell everyone I didn’t know what to do. It was probably the single best piece of risk management advice I’ve ever received. Bill … thanks for everything, and I’m sorry we didn’t have more time.

His death had some side effects, among which was the stark realization that I just completed a decade as a banker. One down, three to go. My former employees who have moved on to other industries and firms are now starting to call me and ask what they should do when they don’t know what to do. Just tell them you don’t know, I catch myself echoing.



Soundly Convicted

So it was that this week I found myself asking what it means to be alive. I’ve always liked to think that we should be living our lives in such a way that we could be convicted in court of having lived.

Please picture the standard Dick Wolf fictional courtroom and theme song.

The judge is a bored overweight middle-aged man who is practically yawning at the impassioned speech of the prosecuting attorney. We’ve started in the middle of a conversation because that makes the viewer feel like the law is exciting.

“This man is alive! He is capable of long hours at work. He eats, sleeps, breathes and consumes.”

For whatever reason, the lawyers in my mind are always yelling, on the verge of tears, and/or bustling papers across tables to each other as if they just discovered something they missed in the hours of preparation they already had for the case. The defendant’s attorney interrupts because that’s what he does in my head to move the scene along.

“Aye,” (the defendant’s attorney is a wise, bearded, 19th century former pirate I guess?) “but there be more to life than that of being physiologically livin’.”

I posed this fake and mildly ridiculous scenario to on T.J. Voboril, attorney and partner at RKV Law. T.J., in my opinion, happens to be a local expert on living in a badass manner. When asked about the possibility of being convicted of being “alive,” he states, “I suspect that the prosecution would have a hard time meeting its burden of proof as the evidence regarding a person’s vitality is inherently relative and subjective.”

The law has spoken.

An individual Definition

And there we have the point which we must define. It would not be enough to simply allow our surroundings, our culture, our past experience to weigh into the situation. We must individually define, on an ongoing basis, what it means for each of us to be alive.

If you represented the prosecution and the defense in your own mind and you laid out the facts about your life, then would you feel confident in seeking a conviction? Something to ponder I suppose.

I think I’m going to spend some time thinking over the past 10 years a bit, perhaps over on the patio at Pazzo’s, and ask myself a few more times how I would feel if today was my last. I realize I’m muttering to myself that I don’t know.

Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.


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