Life, Interrupted

Maybe it was seeing Angelina Jolie profiled on "60 Minutes" last night. Though the life of the glamorous movie star has nothing to do with this blog post, the title of her 1999 movie ("Girl, Interrupted") popped into my mind this evening as I sat down to write.

Writing generally comes easily to me but this is one of those instances where it feels right to slow down just a bit. After all, there's nothing like sobering news to bring you back down to Earth after a long holiday weekend in the company of people you love.

Rob Ingram: A passion for helping people


Sunday night, when I logged on to my newspaper's web site, I was stunned to learn that Rob Ingram, director of the city's youth violence prevention office and a well-rounded guy who was involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program and the Urban League's Young Professionals group, had died earlier that day. Married for 11 years, the father of five succumbed to a massive heart attack. He was just 38.

I met Rob a couple years ago through my own volunteer service with Big Brothers Big Sisters. He was chairman of the agency's African American Advisory Board; I was a member of the Latino Mentoring Advisory Council. He was an extraordinarily outgoing guy, the kind who would make you feel welcome in any crowd. Regretfully, I didn't know him long enough or well enough to call him a friend, but I do know he was a positive force -- and, yes, a role model -- in the community.

Tonight, when I came home after making a blood donation to the American Red Cross, a small gesture of help at the holidays, I was hit with another dose of deflating news. The first Christmas letter of the season arrived in today's mail from our longtime friends in Arizona. Instead of the heavily detailed, two-page rundown we've come to expect on our friends, their daughters and their sons-in-law, this one was brief. Just four paragraphs announcing that John, a non-smoker and an active bicyclist and hiker, had been diagnosed November 14 with Stage 4 lung cancer.

The only symptom he had was a dry cough that started in early October. The cancer is inoperable, but our friends, whose sunny dispositions are a perfect fit for the desert Southwest, are trying to stay positive and encouraging friends to keep them in their thoughts and prayers. Characteristically, they included a photo of themselves, laughing and leaning into each other, with their young grandson standing nearby.

At times like this, it's easy to feel powerless and insignificant. When life happens in the most unpredictable, mysterious ways, bringing heartache and hardships to people who deserve better, it seems selfish to turn inward and feel grateful for your family and your good health. Yet I know that is what the families of both Rob and John would want -- to hug your loved ones tight and never take life itself for granted.

Photograph by Stuart Tomlinson, The Oregonian

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