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  • What do Patrick Swayze, Ted Kennedy and Michael Jackson have in common?

    Posted on September 17th, 2009 admin 2 comments

    What do Patrick Swayze, Ted Kennedy and Michael Jackson have in common?

    That’s right, they are all dead.

    By framing the question as such, I don’t mean for it to be a joke. The truth is people die. Even famous people die. We can keep reminding ourselves, as one TV commentator did, if needed: Patrick Swayze, Ted Kennedy and Michael Jackson are all dead. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.

    We could add many more names to the list of recently deceased people. We could talk about Evelyn Culbertson-Shetley of Parsons, KS who died at 87 on September 9, 2009. She taught Sunday school and served as treasurer of a Baptist church. We could talk about Frances Harnish of Easton, KS who died at 91 on September 10. Or, we could talk about Ruth Howe of Manhattan, KS who died at 101 on September 12. We could talk, talk, talk, but our minds would probably wander to something deemed more important: the health care debate, facebook status updates or what’s for lunch.

    Mention a few celebrities, on the other hand, and we start to think.

    Patrick Swayze. Ted Kennedy. Michael Jackson. They died at 57, 77 and 50, respectively. That’s much younger than Evelyn Culbertson-Shetley, Frances Harnish and Ruth Howe. These ladies lived an average of thirty plus years longer than the celebrities.

    I want to know why some people live long lives and some don’t.

    Maybe it has something to do with gender. The Kansas ladies were female. The male celebrities were male. Yeah, on average women live longer than men, but not 30 years longer.

    Maybe it has something to do with geography, or the quality of life offered by a certain region. I suppose Kansas could yield longer lives than California, Massachusetts or Washington, DC.

    Maybe longevity, or lack thereof, has something to do with money. While I don’t know anything about the Kansas ladies’ financial statements, I imagine the celebrities had larger numbers on their balance sheets – even if heavily weighted under liabilities.

    The whole money thing has caught my attention lately. Take Danny Pang, who managed a hedge fund in California. He died at 42 on September 12. He allegedly defrauded investors of hundreds of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. In 1997 his wife was shot dead in her own home. The charged associate didn’t do it. Pang said he didn’t do it. Regardless, the rich Pangs are both dead.

    As the head honcho fundraiser for Rod Blagojevich, Christopher Kelly was around money all the time. It didn’t do him much good because he died at 51 on September 12, a few days before he was scheduled to begin his jail sentence for fraud.

    Police investigated Kelly’s death as a suicide. Drugs were found in his vehicle. The mayor of a Chicago suburb told a police officer Kelly overdosed on a prescription drug. Put the two together and that sounds like suicide. Sure, the medical examiner has not disclosed autopsy results, but chances are the story is now over. Aside from the details of what happened in Kelly’s life that lead to his death, the fact remains Kelly is dead. He made it to 51.

    51 years isn’t much time to live, but it is more time than Michael Jackson had.

    At times I think there is a simple formula for longevity: do good and live long; do bad and die young.

    Let’s test this formula.

    Norman Ernest Borlaug did good. He used his brain and made discoveries in agricultural research that led to high-yielding crops which fed millions of people. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Maybe long life was another award for Borlaug. He died on September 12 having lived to 95.

    Gertrude Noone was recently known as the world’s oldest living military veteran. She died September 10 at 110. She did good by serving her country and lived a long life.

    So far the simple longevity formula works. Borlaug and Noone both did good and they lived a long life.

    How about Assaf Ramon? He died September 13 at 20. His F-16 crashed while training with the Israeli Air Force and he died. He also did good by serving his country, but he died young. The same holds for his father, Ilan Ramon. Ilan was the first Israeli astronaut. That was good, but he died on the Columbia space shuttle at 48.

    The formula fails. Doing good doesn’t always lead to long life. Sometimes people who do good die young.

    Maybe we should ask God for long life, if we want it, and let him number our days. I don’t see anything wrong with that. However, in the Bible, Solomon had the chance to ask God for anything. He did not ask him for money. Not honor. Not long life. Solomon asked God for wisdom and God was pleased (1 Kings 3:11, 2 Chronicles 1:11).

    A verse in Hebrew wisdom literature says, “Long life is in her right hand” (Proverbs 3:16). The “her” is understood by Hebrew scholars as referring to wisdom, the same thing Solomon wanted from God. Wisdom is the source of long life. If you want long life, get wisdom.

    Now, does that mean that people who die young lack wisdom? Not necessarily. I’m not going to point my finger at any celebrity, fraudulent business man or crooked politician. I certainly don’t want to insinuate that a young soldier who dies an honorable death lacked wisdom.

    At the same time, it is true that wisdom protects people from doing stupid things that could lead to an early death. Wisdom protects people from dirty business. Wisdom protects people from ingesting large quantities of prescription drugs. Wisdom offers good things, including long life.

    The question now becomes, where do you find wisdom?

    The Kansas ladies, Borlaug and Noone may have known the answer. Solomon did.


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