E-mail can’t teach lessons on life, living

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2001

How did we manage to appreciate the value of life before e-mail? Did we ever realize how precious friendships are/how important family is/how witty and filled with wisdom little lists can be/ how fill-in-the-blank-here-with-your-sentimental-lesson-of-the-day?

Well, you get the picture. And if you use e-mail on a regular basis, you also get the scores of poignant salvos that remind us via our computer screens every day just how precious our lives are. Just like this one which – no kidding – made the rounds and returned to The Democrat earlier this spring.

It was titled simply, &uot;Whatever became of what’s-his-name?&uot;:

Imagine the surprise of the masons who were renovating a building in the historic section of Natchez, Mississippi, earlier this year. It was a Friday. They were closing out their work week. It would be enough to start dismantling the rickety and unstable old chimney. Then they would plan their approach to repairing it next week – and shut down for the weekend. Not so! Everybody stayed late that day, for they found a fully-clothed skeleton wedged inside. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the remains were those of a petty criminal who had been last heard from in 1985. His wallet was in his pocket.

The chimney was that of an antebellum home in Natchez. County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell said there was a gift shop in the house back then. &uot;His criminal record shows he was a burglar,&uot; stated Ferrell, &uot;so the suspicion is that he was crawling down the chimney to burglarize the business at that period of time, became lodged, and died.&uot; Nobody suspects foul play. The case has been closed on Calvin Wilson, age 27.

When I heard the story, I wondered the same things you’re wondering. Why did no one notice a decomposing body 16 years ago? Speculation is that breezes off a nearby river kept people from discovering it. Why didn’t he yell and give himself away? Perhaps he slipped and suffered a fatal blow to his head when he entered the chimney. …

Mr. Wilson’s story really isn’t all that unusual. Every once in a while you read of a person found dead in his house or apartment by the utility company. Payment was overdue. Notices had been sent. Finally someone went to shut off the gas or electricity – and discovered a decomposing body. But sixteen long years? Nobody knows you’re gone? What a sad commentary on a human life.

It isn’t that one has to be famous to live a worthwhile life. But you do have to learn the importance of people, connect with them, and really care about them. At work, in your community, with your church, certainly in your family – don’t you want somebody to miss you when you aren’t there anymore?

God didn’t create us for isolation but for community. And lives are not well-lived by selfishness and detachment. To be missed for your absence someday, you need to be making a difference in somebody’s life today.

While some folks forward those messages along each time they receive one, many of us just roll our eyes and click on the delete button. When they hit this close to home, though, we must stop and give pause to wonder would prompt a person to twist a news item from a far-away place into a moralistic e-mail thread. And, while we do need to be making a difference in somebody’s life each day, we don’t need an e-mail to teach us that lesson.

Stacy Graning, editor, can be reached at stacy.graning@natchezdemocrat.com or 445-3539. Editor’s note: Wilson’s family had reported him missing and authorities had previously misidentified a body as Wilson’s.