What I Learned About Living From Kobe Bryant’s Death

Though it is 6.45am, the rising sun remains hidden behind the school buildings. The orange hues that peek out make a warm backdrop for the gleaming white charter buses approaching the campus.  My daughter and 43 of her fellow 4th grade classmates, who are already crowding the edge of the sidewalk, press even closer. They are eager to start their three day adventure. 

Though I am smiling while handing over my daughter’s luggage, I am terrified.  Because of Kobe’s tragic death yesterday, I could squarely see the (albeit small) possibility of this being the last time I may see her.  In a panic, I played out possibilities in my head, including taking her home and calling her dad to help with my anxiety.  

The world is different today. 

I, like so many other Americans, cannot stop thinking about the passing of Kobe Bryant.  It has shaken me. I know it has shaken our country. 

So visibly across Twitter, Instagram, TV news – the nation, in disbelief, is reeling and in shock. The expressions of the mourners are so personal. For a man (and his family) intimately known by only a few – America feels like someone we knew and loved has left us.

The comments from my extended family members in Los Angeles mirroring America’s in our family WhatsApp Group:

“He WAS Los Angeles.” 
“(I’m) hurting…a lot…”

I couldn’t sleep Sunday night. It was puzzling because I knew Kobe only from watching basketball occasionally and was never on the Lakers bandwagon.  But, I believe I could infer what he was about – hard work, fierce competition, sportsmanship, his family – and grieved for that and all that did not come for him. His last tweet shows a glimpse of his values:  

Kobe Bryant death life
Source: Kobe Bryant’s Twitter

I hurt for Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, who is undoubtedly experiencing the greatest pain of her life.  I imagine the tears her and her children are crying in their home, which is full of memories of those whom they grieve.  

The families of other passengers who perished also suffering immensely.  Who would say ‘no’ to a helicopter ride with Kobe? I am sure he had taken that flight hundreds, maybe thousands of times.  The passengers were probably psyched about the chance to fly with him. Maybe they were unphased by it? Either way, the ending the same. 

I thought about the surprises unveiled for those passengers and their families that day.  How the world minus those 9 people would know the tragic ending. How they willingly stepped on board, oblivious to knowing they would never feel the ground beneath their feet again. Did everyone leave their homes on good terms with their families?  

I imagine there is regret. 

I also reflected on the innocence of Kobe and his daughter waking up, not knowing it would be their last day on earth. 

How every single human dances with that possibility, whether acknowledged or not, every day. 

It is why I hesitate in dropping off my daughter today for her school trip. 

For me, and I what I believe others are connecting to, is that vulnerability that we share as humans in that we are ultimately not in control when we breathe our last breath. 

If it can happen to Kobe, it can happen to any of us. 

When celebrities die, especially young, vivacious and healthy ones like Kobe, it shakes us.  It forces us to face our mortality as a collective. Celebrities like Kobe have the best that the world has to offer – the sturdiest, most technologically advanced helicopters, top pilots, a team of people supporting his health and longevity- and his good looks and wealth reinforce a perception of being immortal and invincible. 

Yet, with his passing, we are reminded that we share the ultimate unifying factor – that we each exit this world and rarely do we give consent. 

Kobe is with his Maker now.  I wondered what he and his daughter are seeing, doing and feeling? 

Do they know the world is weeping for them? Do they see us?

My fixation is perplexing to me because I am not a Kobe fan nor do I avoid contemplating death, the afterlife or what’s next.  In fact, I pursue them feverishly. However, it wasn’t until this morning that I uncovered the source of my discomfort – the seemingly random and sudden nature of Kobe’s passing.  

You see, what I believe we can learn in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s passing is how urgent it is for us to live our lives richly, purposefully, spiritually in connection with God (Universe, The Light, Jesus, Buddha, Lord, you choose the name that serves you). 

None of us know how many days, weeks and years we are granted. Cultivating faith, putting forth effort and attempting connection with our Maker, God, Creator well before we reunite is as important as anything we will do in a day. 

It starts with small steps. 

For those seeking to expand their connection with God, here are suggestions for easy ways to expand your relationship: 

  1. Establish rapport – find time in a quiet space and try to simply speak to God.  A photo, an open window or even looking at the sky can help spark connection with that which is grander than yourself. Speak as if you were speaking to a friend or trusted family member.  Speak out into the Universe what is in your heart, what hurts and what you desire. God is patiently waiting for you. If you feel unsuccessful or weird, do not be afraid. Be unrelenting in your attempts to have your voice reach the heavens.
  2. Say thank you often – at the end of every day and/or at the beginning of each day, thank the Universe for everything that went right that day. For waking up that morning, for a hot meal, for your promotion or for your health. There is always much to be grateful for in life. Gratitude is the ultimate spiritual practice.
  3. Avoid regret by acting today–  Dr. BJ Miller, who is an end-of-life physician, commonly sees his patients struggling with regret in their final days. He believes regret is avoidable.  Dr. Miller suggests apologizing now for what is yours to repair. Forgive those who have wronged you. Have the courage to heal now what will ultimately free your conscience for eternity.
  4. Write a letter – my daughter was assigned this task in her Sunday School, and I found this a beautifully simple invitation.  Write to God what you cannot speak. Work on it while riding the train or hide it in your desk at work. If you were to write a letter to God, what would you want to say or ask? 
  5. Create daily spiritual appointments – You can choose the connection vehicle to the Enlightened – it could be through gratitude, meditation, prayer, chanting or even quiet contemplation.  Just as you eat, shower, workout, create the space to connect that which is within you and surrounds you. Constant, frequent repetition is how you build good habits for health and work, as well as your spiritual life.

In these small actions, the Greatness already inside of you will expand. 

As far as my daughter today – I saw the choices I had available to me, including grabbing her and taking her home with me out of fear. Instead, I took a deep breath amidst the crowd of elementary kids and prayed silently to the Higher to keep her and all of them safe. I acknowledged and accepted that our fates are in His hands and absolved myself of the responsibility for that moment.

Instead, I focused on what I could control – not regretting. I hugged her, looked directly in her eyes and said “I love you.” We embraced. I walked away even before she boarded the bus.

It is true. The world is different today. From Kobe, I entertained the possibility of embracing life with openness in the face of ultimate uncertainty.

My prayers are with the Bryant, Altobelli, Chester, Zobayan and Mauser families.

  1. ELLI says:

    You put into words exactly what was going though my head. I was walking through Costco when I found out, initial reaction was shock, disbelief. As I went on with my day I felt myself getting angry but I didn’t realize why. The night ended with me seeing the dedication on the Grammys and I bawled uncontrollably. Even through my tears I was asking my husband why I was crying when I never knew him personally? But what you said about if it could happen to Kobe, it could happen to us- is what is behind the emotion. All we can do is hug our loved ones and pray…and say thanks. I do this nightly, but it is a good reminder never to forget. This was beautifully written. Thank you.

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