THE BLOG
08/25/2014 05:59 pm ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

What the Tragedies of This Summer Can Teach Us About Living

Scott Olson via Getty Images

There were a lot of things I didn't expect when I entered the journalism field. But most of all, I didn't expect to spend so much time thinking about death.

This summer has been particularly harrowing. A plane was shot down in Ukraine en route to Australia. All 298 passengers died.

Three Israeli teens were kidnapped and killed on their way home from school; a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died in a brutal revenge attack shortly after.

Ebola has claimed almost 1,500 lives since December 2013. A Spanish priest succumbed to the disease after being flown home from Libya where we was serving those in danger.

A Sikh man nearly died after being run over by a pick-up truck in Queens, NY. The driver called him a "terrorist" before hitting the gas pedal, and Sikhs everywhere were reminded of the pain of their own disenfranchisement.

The news of Robin Williams' suicide reached Twitter just as I was reconnecting with a friend I hadn't seen since middle school. I rushed home to write a commemorative piece and went to bed thinking about the time I saw him at a fancy restaurant in Sausalito and all the times he made me laugh and cry in his films.

Michael Brown died on a street in Ferguson, and with his bleeding wound, the wounds of centuries of racial oppression ripped open and we all bled together. We are still bleeding.

By the time I learned of James Foley's horrific execution by Islamic State terrorists, the summer had already become the most tragic I had ever lived through. Foley's death broke my heart.

Reporting the news is a task that in some ways goes against my nature. Tragedies strike too deeply for me to remain removed and unbiased, and they become events in my own life, complete with memories, regrets and painful lessons learned.

And so I have been thinking about death. There are a million unlikely circumstances that align in such a way to bring each person into being. Billions of atoms come together to form our anatomies and even more intangibles constitute our minds and souls. This exquisite creation can disappear in a heartbeat, much more quickly than it emerges. For far too many this summer, that moment arrived too soon.

As my colleagues and I relay the stories, every tragedy leaves its imprint. We mourn with the mourning. We bleed with the bleeding. We die a little with each death.

Certain stories stick with you. Robin Williams will stick with me. Michael Brown will stick with me. James Foley will stick with me. There have been days I've felt more consumed by their deaths than with my own life.

It reaches a point where I just think: No more. I have to get my mind off death.

One evening as I stepped into the subway, James Foley came into my mind, and it dawned on me what an immeasurable gift life is.

I'm so happy to be alive, I thought.

Life can end suddenly, tragically, horrifically. I am so happy I'm alive.

I looked up and around me at my fellow passengers on the train and felt overwhelmed with joy that they were all alive. I felt giddy to be surrounded by living, breathing human beings, each one of them so precious and so vital.

We can never bring back James Foley, Michael Brown or any of the other precious individuals who have died before their time. But for those of us who remain, we have a lot of living to do. We have our own precious lives and those of every single person around us to cherish.

Maybe the pain of death -- of all the deaths this summer -- will finally remind us what it means to live. The mourning will never end. But the pain will get better every time we reach out and touch the beating heart of another person with kindness and compassion. We are called upon to live this way now more than ever.