It happened today - December 8, 2015

On this day back in 1980 John Lennon was shot dead by a deranged former fan in New York City. It was and remains to me a pointed reminder of the fragility of life.

Lennon was not my favourite Beatle. In fact he placed fourth on the list. And I’m not even that huge a Beatles fan though every time I actually hear their music I go “Hey, this is really good.” But the point here isn’t whether I liked Lennon’s philosophy or found it childish, or whether I somewhat contradictorily wish he hadn’t played the lead role in breaking up the band and deprived us of the other music they might have created together along with the stuff I already don’t listen to. (And with all due respect to all the band members, nothing afterward by any of them came close although Paul McCartney’s career certainly flourished to the point that he is as far beyond the reach of my criticism as he is beyond the reach of my praise.)

The critical point is that Lennon was minding his own business, living his own life, giving advice nobody had to follow or listen to if they didn’t want to, doing the big important things that really mattered to him and the small routine ones that make up much of anyone’s existence. And then he was shot down suddenly, without warning, no time to compose his thoughts, make a deathbed repentance for anything he might on explicitly final reflection regret, or even come up with pithy and memorable final words. Instead he was in the middle of something routine, possibly a thoroughly banal train of thought, and suddenly he lay mortally wounded for no reason.

It is in some ways a parable of life. Not that most of us are liable to be murdered, of course. But we may well die suddenly at a moment that is not merely not of our own choosing, but that we had not remotely considered might be our last and is not directly connected to anything bad or foolish we just did. As Ray Charles once disquietingly observed, “Live every day like it’s your last, ‘cause one day you’re gonna be right.” And you almost certainly won’t know it when you wake up that morning.

I’m not sure Charles was right, though. I prefer Franklin’s advice to “Work as if you were to live 100 Years, Pray as if you were to die To-morrow.” (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1757)” Especially because of an inscription former Globe editor William Thorsell apparently once saw on a beer mug: “Today is the tomorrow you should have worried about yesterday.”

It is wrong to give no thought to the future. But it is also wrong, very wrong, to take it for granted. Lennon himself once said “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” And sometimes it’s death that does instead.

It comes indeed like a thief in the night and does not dependably send a card ahead of time announcing the visit. And whatever we do, we must live it in the shadow or the light of that knowledge.