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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

In One Man's Life And Death, The Risks — And Rewards — Of Taking Chances

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Sometimes a stranger’s death is a one-day story, not just in the news but in our minds. You can’t live a healthy life if you let too much death cling to you. But the death of Patrick Braxton-Andrew has stuck with me. Not so much for how he died, but for what his family said about it.

Braxton-Andrew was traveling alone in rural Mexico when he disappeared in late October. His body was found after more than two weeks of searching. The governor of the Mexican state of Chihuahua announced that Braxton-Andrew was killed by a local drug trafficker, although the circumstances still aren’t clear.

Braxton-Andrew was 34, a schoolteacher and a tutor in Davidson. He loved traveling in Latin America, often backpacking alone. He went to places most tourists won’t go, and visited areas many of us might consider dangerous. Maybe, as you read the stories about him, you thought he was foolish to take the chances he did.

His family felt the opposite.

His sister-in-law Kathleen, told the Charlotte Observer: “I think a part of honoring and remembering Patrick is not letting that happen — not being afraid to explore new places, to see new cultures.”

“Yes,” Kathleen said, “this is a horrible thing, but Patrick had so many experiences in Latin America, and — I mean, thousands — and that doesn’t get replaced by this.”

His mother, Jean, added: “The passion that Patrick had for what he was doing — and the good things, and all of the memories that people have that are so good.... That far outweighs the bad things that happened.”

I wonder how many of us would have had the open minds, and open hearts, to feel that way.

If you think about it, each one of us is a walking calculator. Every day we measure the risk in our lives and make judgments accordingly. Do I speed up to make it through the yellow light, knowing there’s a chance I might get T-boned? Do I finish off that steak, knowing what it might do to my heart? Do I walk down that street late at night? There’s that constant balance between staying out of danger and pushing a little to make your life more exciting, more interesting or just more convenient.

Most people I know around my age are dealing with aging parents. We’re struggling now with the same thing they struggled with when they raised us. What we want most is for them to be safe. What they want most is to be independent and free. We all try to find that midpoint in between, but the truth is, there really isn’t one. It’s not as much a sliding scale as it is a clumsy stumble. And sometimes there’s a hard fall.

You can live your life in bubble wrap, but odds are it won’t be much of a life. Patrick Braxton-Andrew understood that, and so does his family. They grieve his loss, but they’re not grieving his life. They know his life was full.

Tommy Tomlinson’s commentaries appear every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. They represent his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his commentaries in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.