Death is no stranger to any of us in ordinary times. With Covid still quite visible in our rearview mirror (in the US the 2020 death rate per 1000 people was the highest since 1943), our thoughts may stray to the tenuous hold we have on life.
Two stories this month reminded me to not take my time on earth for granted.
Whenever a celebrity dies suddenly with others in an accident, the news seems to tell the story from every conceivable angle. About the celebrity, that is. But the others who die with the famous person are often shunted aside. Consider the tragic helicopter accident in January 2020 that killed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Do you recall the names of the seven other people who died with them in the crash? Neither did I until a singer on America’s Got Talent told the audience that his wife Christina, an assistant basketball coach, died in that accident. The others killed were John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton; and the pilot Ara Zobayan.
Every single life that ended in an instant was just as important as Kobe Bryant’s was.
The second story happened on July 4. A photographer named Frank Lee Ruggles died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep; the cause of death has not yet been determined. Although he and his wife Lisa lived in Virginia, I did not know him personally. But I found his photographic work absolutely amazing.
I can’t recall how I first learned about him, but we went to a showing of his work a number of years ago, and I’ve given some of his photographic excellence as gifts to my husband and son-in-law. Frank’s shot of the eclipse hangs in our master bedroom.
His history is a story worth telling and so below I’ve included a link to his beautiful obituary. He served his country as an Amy paratrooper, and he held the position of a federal photographer from 2007-2010 where, on a journey of 100,000 miles across all fifty states, he captured (and that is the absolute best verb to explain his work) America the beautiful.
To quote a portion of the obituary, “Frank continued to serve as the National Artist Ambassador for the National Park Trust; he lectured and taught around the country and is the author of Chasing Light, An Exploration of the American Landscape…Frank went on…to become the Artist Ambassador for the National Park Trust, using his passion for the environment and skills to capture the majesty of the national parks through his lens to share with the world and educate children that we must protect our natural resources for generations to come.
His latest passion project for the last three years was the 79 Years Project. This project consisted of a modern-day reshooting of the Ansel Adams 1941 Photo Murals project, shot-for-shot same days and locations with the same equipment, to show what has changed in the lifespan of the average American.”
A small portion of his memorial service was uploaded online; friends delivering eulogies. There seemed to be an in-joke going on. You see, each of them thought that HE was Frank’s best friend.
And wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to be remembered…that each of your friends thought that he or she was the most beloved of all because of how you treated them?
Yes, indeed, remember that life is short, and we have too little time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us.
Thank you, Frank Lee Ruggles, for gladdening our eyes, hearts, minds, and souls with your photography.
“I live, eat, breathe and even sleep photography. Photography is life.” – Frank Lee Ruggles, January 5, 2021
Short article from Bioethics Research Library Georgetown University
Matt Mauser’s audition (his wife Christina died in the crash with Kobe Bryant)