Celebrate being alive
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founded 2004 by ron cruger
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 by Bill Barth
        In the natural unfolding of life, one is born and then passes through all the stages of human existence — infancy, childhood, adolescence, the teen years, adulthood, middle age, and what is euphemistically referred to as the “Golden Years.”
        As we age we complain about the aches and pains, commiserate with those who understand, and laugh off each passing birthday with, “getting old is better than the alternative.”
        Now and then, though, we are reminded what a blessing it is to have that opportunity, to experience all the stages of life. To go through the ups and downs. To cry and laugh. To search out that special someone. To witness the birth of a child. To bond with friends. To take pride in professional accomplishments. To make a difference in someone’s life.
To see another sunrise.
To feel the wind at our backs.
To see the wonder of a tree.
To watch the tide come and go.
To pet a dog.
        Some readers may have noticed the brief reports in the national news when a group of four people went missing in a small plane over the Montana mountains. They left the Kalispell airport, close by Glacier National Park, for what was supposed to be a relatively short sightseeing excursion.
         Two of the four — Erika Hoefer and Melissa Weaver — were reporters at the Daily Inter Lake newspaper in Kalispell. They boarded the plane, a 1968 Piper Arrow, with two men — Sonny Kless and Brian Williams.
        Kless was the pilot. His experience level was low. The mountains are high.
The investigation into what happened continues, but this is really all that matters. The plane went down. There were no survivors.
        Erika Hoefer, just 27 years old, will not experience all those wonders and stages of life, or have the opportunity to laugh and say, “getting old is better than the alternative.”
        Nor will the others, all of whom surely were good young people who didn’t deserve to die. But it’s Erika whose passing touches me, personally, and my newspaper in Beloit, Wis.
        Erika grew up in the Beloit area, coming from a great family. She went away to college, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but returned home upon graduation and walked into my door looking for work as a journalist. She had the skills and personality we were looking for, and we brought her on in a part-time beginning position.
        To fast-forward, it wasn’t long before Erika showed us she deserved a full-time job when that opportunity arose. She performed admirably, but her ambitions were bigger than Beloit.
        Always a style maven, Erika’s real dream — she had majored in magazine journalism during college — was to take New York City by storm and wind up on a national fashion publication. So when she got the chance to join a publication in Chicago, she thought it would be one step closer to the Big Apple.
        The lousy economy and the turmoil in the publishing industry disrupted that plan, and like millions of others Erika found herself involuntarily looking for another job. She asked me to be a reference for her. I gladly said yes.
But I was surprised, to say the least, when I got a call from the editor of the Kalispell, Montana, paper. That paper and mine are sister publications, owned by the same company, so the Kalispell editor is not a stranger. When he said he was looking at Erika Hoefer for a newsroom job, my answer was quick: “Hire her.”
        He did.
        Just about six months or so before that fateful flight.
We touched base a couple of times during that six months. No surprise. Erika was happy at the Daily Inter Lake, and the Daily Inter Lake was happy with her. Her colleagues loved her. Big, bright personality, with high-heeled style to spare, a quick and easy laugh, and the energy and enthusiasm to match her flaming red hair.
         One moment, filled with life and promise.
        The next, gone.
        Don’t try to make sense of it. There isn’t any.
        It’s just one of those tragic vicissitudes of human existence, the randomness that makes life so fragile. No one ever expects it, or knows it’s coming. It just does.
        Those left behind always search for meaning, for some way to understand.
There is no way. People live. People die. And not much of it is within our control. 
Erika was a very good person. She lived a good life. It was too damn short. Those of us who knew her will miss her.
        I don’t think I will ever say again that a birthday “beats the alternative.”
        Celebrate being alive. Every day.
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