One thing to remember is that none of us are getting out of here alive. It’s just that it is hard to see those who go before us—go. The Gadfly’s column in last week’s Crested Butte News about a rough spring and how “life can be tough in paradise” put the focus on suicide in our little valley. A post written for National Geographic’s adventure blog in 2016 delves into the question of “Why are ski towns seeing more suicides?” It is an enlightening piece for us in this valley right now. Google it. There are too many suicides in our little “paradise” and those who make that choice leave us all wondering.
And then you get the “normal” crossings over. People die. All of us will die. It sometimes comes in old age; sometimes it is an accident or the result of a disease. The bottom line is that death is never easy for those left behind, no matter the reason.
And so it is this week as an unexpected passing of our friend Tom Stillo was reported. A great, low-key guy with no pretentions and a high fun factor, the photographer, skier, volleyball player, builder, gemologist, all-around positive guy apparently passed to the other side during a nap. That sounds okay to me. And I like naps.
Not everyone living here knew Tom, or Beth or Tim or the others who have left us recently but each leaves a hole in our evolving community at 9,000 feet. Each added to the texture of this tribe. I knew Tom better than Tim or Beth but I miss all of their presences.
The Dalai Lama has many times explained that death is simply a part of life. It comes for most when the body needs a change, sort of like changing an old sweater. The important thing, he says, is to live a good life. Don’t dwell on death—focus on life. For the Dalai Lama that means helping people. It means having compassion. It means, at the very least, doing no harm to others. If you do that, then you should not fear death and what comes after but should be content in the knowledge that you have lived a life worth living. Good advice that is echoed by most spiritual leaders.
So no matter how you choose (or don’t choose) the path to the other side, the important thing is to be in the present. Tom did that. As far as I could tell, he was always nice, respectful, helpful and positive. He loved his family, his friends and this place. He lived a good life. He was a good role model.
So with his passing, along with the others we know of in this little mountain village, perhaps take a moment to evaluate how you are living your life. Sure, there is the ability to get out and ski and ride and embrace the mountains and for that we are all fortunate. But while doing that, remember too that it is important to do just a tad more. Help others. Be nice. Live a compassionate life. If you can do that, the idea of death is something to not be feared but is something that is simply a part of life—a good life.
After all, none of us are getting out of here alive.