By Kate Cocchiarella
I love this valley. It is a big place with a small-town feel. The people I meet on the trails are my friends. Vail Mountain is enormous, but personal connections are made on the slopes. Experts stop to help beginners in distress. Old friends meet by chance, and new friends are made on chairlift rides.
Neighbors help one another by walking one another's dogs and taking in one another's trash cans. I find community and camaraderie all around me. We are blessed to have a valley full of lively, passionate, hard-working folks living life to the fullest.
Unfortunately, death happens more often than we would like in a community that thrives in the outdoors, in a community that lives for adventure.
We feel the loss of our own acutely. When someone you love dies, you face a difficult time. When a community loses someone who brings laughter and smiles, someone who pushes you to learn, someone who inspires by pushing their own limits, someone who radiates light and love — when these people leave us, is it especially tragic.
Sometimes they die doing what they love. "At least they were happy at the end," we tell ourselves. Other times, a car accident, random acts of violence, depression or disease is at fault, and we search in vain for the words that will soothe us.
The recent deaths of several vibrant, caring and enthusiastic community members have made me reflect. I can't stop thinking about the importance of kindness and forgiveness. How do I want to be remembered at the end of my life? Who would I make amends with before it was too late? Do the people I love know how much I value them? Our daily actions can speak volumes and make a world of difference.
We can choose to treat those in our lives with love and tenderness. We can show dignity and respect to those with whom we work. We can drive reasonably and politely. We can communicate openly and honestly. We can forgive others for their mistakes. We are all human and fallible, making well-intentioned missteps, but we can choose compassion and understanding for others and for ourselves. We all will commit errors and be grateful for those who forgive us. Life is fragile and precious; we should not take it for granted.
When making choices in our everyday lives, let's remember those folks who inspired us by radiating out positivity, passion, enthusiasm and love for others. These are the things that are important, the things that matter; the rest of it is just noise. Tune out the noise, and remember to choose kindness and empathy. Each one of us can make a difference to those around us and, in so doing, honor our departed friends.
Eagle County Schools has crisis teams in place to assist students and families when tragedies impact our schools. Please reach out to your school or another community organization if you want support in difficult times. Other resources exist for people who are impacted but not affiliated with a school. Call the Colorado Crisis Line at 1-844-493-8255 or the newly established Hope Center Eagle River Valley 970-306-4673 (HOPE).
Kate Cocchiarella is the president of the Board of Education of Eagle County Schools. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.