Sometimes, Real Things Seem Made Up. Think Franco Harris.

See the double rainbow in this photo? It appeared as we were driving back home from the Memorial Service of one of my closest friends. Hard to believe. Hard to see it as a coincidence. Hard not to think I was being guided home with light and hope.

It is in this context that I am trying to understand the sudden passing of Franco Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is the 50th Anniversary of the Immaculate Reception on Dec. 23 — and if you watch the replay, it was a truly remarkable catch off a deflection. His number is being retired this weekend (assuming that event is held). There was a planned celebration for the amazing reception. And he was interviewed, in seeming good health yesterday by Christopher Russo on Mad Dog Radio. He seemed fine — 50 years after an event that made history.

Then, Franco Harris dies last night. Cause unknown at present. He was 72 years old — young by many measures, mine included.

So, here is my question. Did he die before being honored because his body and mind were so excited about the anniversary that he just keeled over? Did he finally find peace and so could now rest in peace? I just don’t get it. Fate? Karma? Bad luck? Divine Intervention?

I am trying to remember other deaths or incidents where the timing made no sense or all the sense in the world. There are people who have been married for decades and die within days of each other. OK, I get that. There are families where twins, whether separated by distance or not, have some shared illness or shared test scores (within decimal points of each other) or shared times of birthing respective children; I get that.

Share some if you have your own.

Have you ever thought of the same thing as another person at the same time? Have you ever had a premonition that comes true? (Don’t count the many premonitions that don’t come to pass.)

I know a man whose young son died on his father’s birthday, forever making that day one that defies celebration. I know a woman whose daughter died tragically and the mother was thinking of taking a new job and as she was thinking it over, a white dove appeared before her, seemingly giving her permission to work at this new location.

I’m just saying that there is something more than a tad spooky about dying right before one is honored for an achievement. I tend to think of events like this as defying logic and being controlled by some unknown source, although I am not a big believer in someone pulling strings from upstairs.

But coincidence seems like an odd explanation doesn’t it? Fate? Destiny? Bad fortune?

Here’s the observation I want to make on which we can all ponder: lots of life defies explanation. No amount of logic or rational thinking seems to provide an adequate explanation. Life and death seem to have their own timing, way out of our control for the most part.

My father died in his 80’s after spending the day at the top of Vail mountain and attending a stellar concert in the evening. He died right after a glorious 24 hours. Fate? Destiny? Bad fortune? Good Fortune?

So, we need to recognize that despite our efforts, lots of life happens without explanation. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Truth gets buried; deaths occur at the oddest of times. We live in a swirling world where everything doesn’t have an explanation.

As I write this, Christmas is upon us. As is Hanukah. Does Santa exist? Did the lights really stay lit for 8 days? For kids, there is a power in believing. And who knows what happens when we believe in fictional outcomes? Maybe it gives us hope in a world gone crazy. Maybe it reminds us that life is beyond our control, no latter how hard we try to control it.

For believers, it is nice to have an explanation for life’s twists and turns. It was his time or her time; it is what was planned. For those of us who struggle to believe or don’t believe at all, we have to accept life’s uneasy flow and seemingly random patterns and live for today not knowing if there is a tomorrow.

And, that is the hard part: accepting — whether one believes or not — that life happens. That’s the reality. It happens, whether it makes sense or not. So, take each day as a gift. Enjoy it. Live it with kindness and care. Watch out for others. Be your best self and help others be their best selves. And, remember that power that comes from doing one’s best…..and not gaslighting the past or the present or the future.

As I write this, I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Demon Copperhead. It is a book where truth hurts and seems fictionalized. Yes, it is book of fiction, so none of it is true except that it is true that real children live like Demon — sadly. So, truth is hard, even when packaged as fiction. And life is hard, especially when it defies understanding.

And our task on this earth, while we are here, is to live life knowing we can’t control the forever and we need to care about others as if today may be our last.



Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor