In JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, there was a beautiful scene in which a conversation takes place between Gandalf the Gray and Frodo the Hobbit. Frodo was entrusted with the One Ring of Power, the source of all evil in Middle Earth, and tasked with destroying it by casting it into Mount Doom. This was far more than a dangerous journey. It was likely near impossible for ordinary men, much less a Hobbit. In the scene Fordo lamented to Gandalf that the task came to him. He grieved that all the chaos and destruction was happening around him.
Frodo said: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
To which Gandalf relied: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
“The time that is given to us.” I thought about that scene a lot this week. How many things happen in our lives that we wish do not happen? I feel as Gandalf does. Thinking about what should have happened, what could have happened is a waste, for all we have is the here and the now, and we decide what to do with that here and now. And the time that is given to us is short by any standards.
Mark Duane LaLonde was born on March 30, 1988. 33 years was the time that was given to him. Brief for some, long for others, but those 33 years were Mark’s, and he used every minute of his time here.
The third of four brothers, one of the earliest memories I have of Mark is forged in the crucible of what made Millennials so durable… the latchkey. Our mom, a new single mother trying to figure out our new reality, didn’t have many options for childcare. So, I found myself the man of the house often watching after three younger brothers who did not so much as pretend, I had an ounce of authority.
One day, the brothers were being particularly randy. I don’t recall exactly what Mark did, but I had reached my limit. I found a yard stick and with all 36 inches, I wound it up like Barry Bonds freshly injected with the latest BALCO substance and WHACK! I gave him some much-needed corporal punishment.
I’m not saying that was the best response, but needless to say from that day forward, my brothers gave me very little problems. I remember our mom coming home from Dominick’s (remember those?), and she was amazed at such a clean house and all the boys sitting on the floor behaving!
She didn’t find out about the yard stick until several years ago when Mark ratted me out. She tried scolding me, but couldn’t argue with the results.
Throughout history, the number four holds much symbolic meaning. Almost from prehistoric times, the number four was employed to signify what was solid, what could be touched and felt. Its relationship to the cross (four points) made it an outstanding symbol of wholeness and universality, a symbol which drew all to itself.
In the Bible,
- Ezekiel has a vision of four living creatures: a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle.
- The four Matriarchs (foremothers) of Judaism are Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel.
- The four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. (Christianity)
- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
In philosophy, mathematics, and science,
- Four basic parts of arithmetic: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division.
- Greek classical elements (fire, air, water, earth).
- The four cardinal virtues: Justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom.
- Four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, winter.
- Four cardinal directions: north, south, east, west.
More modern examples,
- The Big Four heavy metal thrash bands: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax.
- And probably, the most important foursome of all – The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.
The number four has long been important in the LaLonde household because there were four boys, four sons, four grandsons. Paul, Peter, Mark, and Duane – apparently by the fourth one, all the Biblical names were taken.
As the oldest of the four sons, there are barely any memories in my mind of a time when there were not four of us. I am sure none of us remembers a time without the others.
Now, all new memories will be incomplete. Like a baseball game rained out, or a painting that was never finished.
Memories – that’s all that we have left of Mark, yet, those are the most important possessions we can hold on to.
While it’s tragic to think about Mark leaving us, he left behind a lifetime of memories that we can celebrate. Mark was always ready for a fun day with family and friends – a lover of music, he would have been the one showing up today with the perfect playlist for the event.
He’d probably suggest we throw on some Led Zeppelin so he could air guitar the solo from Stairway to Heaven. He’d then want us to play Metallica so he could jam to Master of Puppets. But he’d also likely want to hear some Elvis and Sinatra because Mark was an old soul.
Incredibly calculated and thoughtful, Mark would find you the perfect gift and then likely pay for it in cash counted out in exact change including the penny he just picked up on the curb as he walked inside the store. I’d often jest that he was so cheap that his wallet was a bank bag with the money sign on it. He once said he was thinking about getting a pool. I asked if it was for his money so he could dive into it like Scrooge McDuck.
But I cannot really joke about that because he did purchase a house when he was 22. When I was 22 I was probably passed out in some random cornfield in college. I think he was a little more mature than I was at that age. Mark embodied the timeless virtues of respect, politeness, and deference. He was a man of God and tried to live his life as devoutly as he could. He carried a Bible with him, and his handshake was textbook right down to the firm grip and eye contact. He made sure to represent the values our parents and grandparents instilled in us – and he didn’t let them down.
Mark was a busy body. He wasn’t content unless he was on the move. This is likely one of the reasons he didn’t have cable – not because he had all the streaming services, but because he didn’t watch TV! And he was too cheap to pay for it. He’d much rather be playing his guitar, working on a woodwork project in the garage, or riding his Harley to Sturgis.
Remember in Forest Gump when the titular character ran from coast to coast? That was Mark, only on his motorcycle – wearing his trademark bandana, leather boots, and leather Harley vest our dad gave him because, in our dad’s words, it mysteriously “shrank.”
Even though my brother was several years younger than me, I always wanted to include Mark in my adventures with friends. We went paintballing together at our grandparent’s farm. I gave him a welt on the back of his head, and he returned the favor with a shot so precise that it ensured I couldn’t walk straight for a few hours. I’ll leave it up to your imaginations as to where that shot landed. We turned our mom’s backyard into a huge WWE wrestling ring complete with ladders, steel chairs, and cooking sheets from her kitchen. One time during a makeshift WrestleMania, the neighbors thought there was a gang fight in our backyard, and police surrounded us from all sides – not making that up. I’m not sure which gangs use pizza pans and ladders, but either way, the police laughed at us and let us off with a warning.
Even though we did so many different activities together, some of my fondest memories are of all the times we went to concerts together.
As big time metalheads, we’d thrash around in the mosh pits and bang our heads to some wicked riffs. He always had more hair than me, and his stamina was always so much better than mine – it was as if the concert veteran was him showing ME how it was done, not the other way around. A friend recently remarked to me that he was in always in awe of this barely five-foot maniac running around in the mosh pit with endless energy, holding his own where lesser men dare to tread.
How do you distill a lifetime of memories and experiences into a 15-minute eulogy?
You don’t. You just do the best you can to let others know what you saw in someone, and maybe, while reminiscing, they are reminded about what they saw in them, too.
Mark was more than a friend. He was a son, a grandson, a brother, and an uncle. We were bonded by blood – four brothers all sharing a sacred relationship, and it cannot be explained, only felt by those who lived it.
But now, that once solid number of four is shattered – forever altered by the untimely passing of a family pillar. Three brothers doesn’t sound the same, and I can’t imagine what life is going to be like without Mark sending us funny Arnold Schwarzenegger memes in a group text. Never again will we hear his Arnold impressions, his motorcycle approaching down the street, or his belly laugh when he tells a lame uncle joke.
Western culture doesn’t talk enough about death. It’s something many of us avoid discussing, thinking about. We’d rather be doing anything but contemplating the shortness of life, or ensuring we are using our time to the fullest.
In Stoic philosophical tradition, there is a Latin phrase memento mori – remember that you will die. It’s not meant to be morbid, or pessimistic. It’s a phrase of deep meaning and positivity.
It’s easy to see death as this event that lies off in the distant future. Even those of us who choose not to live in denial of our mortality can be guilty of this. We think of dying as something that happens to us. It’s stationary date we’re moving towards, slowly or quickly, depending on our age and health.
Seneca, the Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher, felt that this was the wrong way to think about death, that it was a mistaken view that enabled many bad habits and wasted living. Instead, Seneca said, death was a process—it was happening to us right now. We are dying every day, he said. Right now, time is passing that you will never get back. That time, Seneca said, belongs to death.
This is the power of memento mori. For it is death that gives life meaning. Because one day we will not be here, and many of our days have already come and gone, we should do all that is within our power to make this moment count for all its worth. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not promised. All we have is the time that is given to us. So, let’s live there, and focus on that.
This is how Mark lived when he was riding his Harley. This is how Mark lived when he was strumming his guitar or banging the drums. This is how Mark lived when he was working on his lawn or his home renovations or his woodworking. This is how Mark lived when he was with his family and friends.
Mark focused on the time that was given to him. This will be the most cherished lesson that he taught me. I just wish I paid attention to it prior to him being gone.
Our mom always told us boys that “family is forever.” She did so as a way of instilling a deep-rooted connection between her sons, the four brothers. On one hand she got it partially wrong. Nothing is forever. Life is fragile, ephemeral. However, she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams, as the four brothers will remain four – even if one is no longer with us. We remain bonded, strong through a love that extends parallels and plains. Right now, I feel Mark presence – mostly because I am hearing a faint Arnold Schwarzenegger voice yelling at me to “Come on, get to the finish! Do it! Do it now!” He may be gone physically, but he remains metaphysically. So long as his memory stays alive, he is alive.
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.” – H.P. Lovecraft
“…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4