It’s long been said that only the good die young. At one time, I just thought it was a bit of mummery — conventional folk wisdom with not a shred of truth to it. But then. . .
Then I recalled Fred Fisher and Gina Berger. I met Fred back in the mid-1950s. Fred was a few years older than me; he was in either high school or middle school while I was in sixth grade. Fred looked like a cuddly football player — big and burly, but handsome. However, it was his persona that set Fred above and apart from everyone else. Fred was universally liked and admired. There wasn’t anyone who met him who didn’t feel an instant bonding to him. And he had all the virtues: Generosity, compassion, charity, and a thoroughgoing courtliness. Importantly, Fred’s likability was such that it never inspired jealousy. Your mom and dad could openly sing Fred’s praises and, if you’d met Fred, you’d agree and join in the little pep fest.
Then, well before the end of high school, Fred sickened and died. His death saddened everyone. His mom and dad were distraught.
It was then that I first heard the sentiment, Only the Good Die Young.
As the years went by, there were other occasions where someone who was exceptionally decent and likable died early while the shit heads lived on and on and on.
In the mid 2000s, my daughter called with the news that her cousin, Gina Berger, was killed in a car wreck at age nineteen. The State Patrol said she’d fallen asleep at the wheel, her car went across the median and slammed head-on into a semi. She died instantly. My daughter said that Gina’s parents were inconsolable — as was the community of Gina’s relatives and friends.
My daughter and I talked about young Gina. According to my daughter, Gina had some sort of personal magnetism, a charisma, that almost compelled adoration from those who met her. She attracted people the way a rose attracts bees. According to my daughter, Gina was of comely appearance with mesmerizing eyes. In school, she pulled in “A”s with no apparent effort and was popular without the cruelty so often seen in attractive young women. Even dull and homely girls could stand next to Gina without making invidious comparisons to themselves. Gina, so my daughter said, would have “made some guy the happiest man on earth” and been “a wonderful mom.” “There’s something about her,” people would say of Gina. “Angelic” was a word often used to describe her.
So what’s with people like Fred and Gina? And how come such wonderful specimens always seem to die before adulthood?
Well, perhaps they are angels. Perhaps these angelic creatures have, for one reason or another, chosen to spend some time in our realm. Even with the brains and bodies of children, their true natures shines through and all who behold them can see it. By being here, their presence imparts some sort of grace or charm to those about them, a grace those people may need in their lives.
However, were these angelic creatures to remain here into adulthood, with the commensurate body and brain, their radiance might become too much for normal people to deal with. They might actually become frightening to us. They might inspire in us, feelings of comparative inferiority such that we might come to hate them. And that would be unfortunate.
And so Providence gives them limited time. They leave before we come to feel ashamed and small. They leave while we can still feel sadness at their leaving, instead of relief.