The Silver Lining
"No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..."
NASCAR fans were made painfully aware of the truth behind those words this past week as they heard about the death of Steve Byrnes. Complete strangers, people who knew him only by what they saw of him on television cried and felt a profound sense of loss. That loss will continue to be felt by those that both knew Steve and by those who only knew him through his work. There is and will continue to be sympathy for his wife and young son. Yes, it's the natural progression of life for parents to die before their children but not this soon, not before the child has himself become a man.
Why do these things happen? Why does a man who I've never heard anyone say a bad thing about, die at such a young age? Why is a man allowed to defeat the terrible force of cancer once only to die at its hand later? No one knows of course but there are a few things we should know, things the rest of us should pause to consider.
It's in times like this that those who are left should realize we're all a part of each other. We saw that play out on social media. When word began to leak Monday night that Steve's future looked grim, race fans, personal strangers began to come together. We all tweeted our support and words of encouragement. Although they were directed at Steve and his family, I think a lot of people felt a sense of community and personal emotion. We cared. We cared about someone other than ourselves, someone that most of us never personally knew. That says a lot considering how impersonal and self-centered the world of social media has made us. For once, it wasn't about us.
So often in life when we lose people we care about, we're left to wonder if they knew what we thought of them. That's not the case with Steve Byrnes. As tragic as the situation seems, after the Bristol race of last Sunday which was named for him, he knew what people thought. He had an idea of how many people were affected by his life, his work and even his impending death. I can only imagine how that made him feel at the time but no one has to carry the guilt of wishing in hindsight that they'd told him what they thought. We did that. Fans, sponsors, the network, his colleagues, drivers and teams, everyone had the chance to let Steve know what they thought.
Upon the passing of Jay Gatsby in the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, "The Great Gatsby," the character of Meyer Wolfsheim says, "Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead." Although many of us have had or might have situations where we wish we could have adequately expressed ourselves to a person we care about when they're still among the living, in this instance, we took advantage of the opportunity. Maybe, hopefully, we can remember to do that to those around us, those that we know and care about. Make sure there are no regrets. Make sure we make the opportunity to let the ones we love know we love them and just assume they know.
No one likes situations such as this one. They're obviously sad. For those of us that still live though, maybe it's times like this that make us better people and if they don't, perhaps we should reexamine ourselves. As the days pass since Steve's death, as I read and watch the tributes given to him, I'm struck by how for all our differences, we really are the same. In these moments, there is no black and white. There are no rich and poor. There's no us, there's no them, no Republicans, no Democrats. There are no agendas. There are only people helping people, caring for people and feeling emotion for people and that can never in any way be a bad thing.
Steve Byrnes taught us a lot about racing. He shared from his perspective, things that we wanted to know and in many cases, didn't know prior to him telling us about them. I've realized that now even in death, if he's not still teaching us, he's at least reminding us of things. These are lessons I hope we all remember.
"Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."