When I hear those words, the first thought that pops into my mind is the somewhat controversial, yet best-selling song by Billy Joel. However, it may be that upon closer inspection, truer words were never spoken. (spoiler alert ahead for the movie The Imitation Game).
Today in the U.S. we are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. day, in honor of the great civil rights activist. King received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent approach to treating racial inequality. He helped organize the Selma to Montgomery Marches that played a key role in helping to secure passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. The highly acclaimed movie Selma takes a look back at this time in our history. Mr. King was killed fighting for what he believes in, at the young age of 39.
I just came from seeing “The Imitation Game” with my wife and son, a great movie about the life of Alan Turing. Turing was the leader of a British team of cryptographers who cracked the German Enigma code, helping to save the lives of 14 million people, according to some historians.. Turing was a brilliant mathematician, and his work has had a major impact on the world of computers that we all live in today. Unfortunately, Turing committed suicide at the age 41, perhaps brought on by his prosecution for homosexual behavior. It took the British Government 45 years to issue an official apology for the “appalling way he was treated”.
Buddy Holly has been described as “the single most influential creative force in early rock and roll”. His work has inspired bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and artists from Bob Dylan to Elvis Costello. Amazingly, his success only lasted about 18 months before he was killed in an airplane crash at the age of 22. His death, along with those of Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper, was immortalized in the Don McLean song “American Pie” with the lyrics “the day the music died”.
Mother Teresa, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, died at the advanced age of 87. She maintained her role as head of Missionaries of Charity, an organization committed to giving “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”, until just six months before her death. She was still a force for good at the time of her death, and likely would have continued to service the poor for many more years, if given the opportunity.
When I hear the words “only the good die young”, I don’t think of it as referring to someone dying at a young age, but rather an indication that someone has made a positive difference but has died before they have had a chance to fully leave their mark on the world.
It’s easy to imagine how much greater the contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr, or Alan Turing, or Buddy Holly, or Mother Teresa would have been if they all lived a healthy life until the age of 100.
But I’m left to wonder how many other people, people we will never have a chance to know, have died too young, without even getting the chance to make a difference in the world. Whether it’s the result of their beliefs, their lifestyle, the luck of birth, or the consequences of war or natural disasters, I think too many people have died before their time.
And so, on such a special day as this, my dream is that you get to live to a ripe old age, but at your death everyone still says that you “died young”.