The fragility of life

The fragility of life is a remarkable thing.

The tragic death of Matthew Leonard last week is a sad and emotional reminder that every day could be our last and that we must treasure those in our life.

Not for a moment am I going to pretend I knew Matthew well – we spoke only on a few occasions and our paths didn’t cross all that much.

However, I feel immensely for a large number of my friends who knew Matthew so well, none more so than James Millar who I know has had an incredibly tough week and to him my heart goes out.

Our Deputy Editor and my close friend Erin James spent some very special times with Matthew and she, like all of us, is devastated that Matthew has been taken from the world so young.

I remember one time when Matt and I had a little bit of an issue over a personal matter. I still recall the email he sent, burying the hatchett, and his strength of character and integrity shone through quite obviously.

Matthew never really cracked it in theatre but numerous people have told me this week that it just wasn’t his thing at the end of the day. He loved acting, but couldn’t quite deal with not being in control and hence his career as a firefighter came along and took over.

The job he chose and the fact that he died whilst en route to the Kokoda Trail is proof that he had an incredible sense of adventure.

His agent Les Solomon said in an email to me this week: “I first saw Matt at his graduation from WAAPA in 2003. I offered him representation soon afterwards and we seemed to hit it off from the start, I remember I offered him representation the same day I spoke with him and he accepted at once. A very unusual occurrence with the amount of shopping around that normally goes with the territory at graduation time of year.

“Matt was keen and enthusiastic and dedicated about his career and went through the hoops of slowly getting known by the casting agents as a very outdoors all Aussie kind of guy. He was thrilled when he was cast in South Pacific directed by John Diedrich at the Theatre Royal, where he played the professor and also understudied the key role of Lt Cable. Conrad Coleby was playing the part at the time and there were several occasions where Matt was dressed and ready to go as Conrad worked out whether he could sing the role or not that night. It was disappointing Matt never got to go on as he was a bit of a Cable in real life; outdoors, tough on the exterior, but very sensitive and easily hurt underneath. It would have been a perfect fit for him.

“I remember after his success with John Diedrich in South Pacific he was most keen to work with John again in Titanic the Musical and after he did not win a role in that show, his passion for his acting seemed to ebb a little. It was not long after that he told me he was frustrated with not being able to be in control as an actor. He was such a pro active person and sitting in a tiny flat in Erskineville waiting for the next audition was just not him.”

Earlier this year, about 100 people attended the funeral for baby twins, who were found dead in their Perth home. Their mother has been charged with murder and the little boy and girl never got a chance to live life.

Last month, in a largely unreported story given the excitement surrounding an idiotic Englishman who got lost in the bush, a nine-year-old from Newcastle died after being thrown from his pushbike when he clipped handlebars with his mate’s bicycle. Little Stuart Jones will never experience all life can offer.

And just a few weeks ago, in one of the most brutal and baffling multiple murders in Australia’s history, five people were killed in a home at North Epping. Heartbreakingly, a family is gone.

In each of the above stories there are unanswered questions, and the overriding question is one of “why”.

Murder or accident, the question remains the same and the answers may never come. Even when they do, closure is such a fickle thing.

It has, indeed, been one of years months that makes you value each and every day. One of those years that makes you shake your head about the way the world works sometimes.

It is perhaps Stephen Jones – the father of little Stuart who was killed up in Newcastle – who sums it up best.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph about the circumstances surrounding his son’s death, he said: “I think people will read something like this and it will make you go and hug your kids. You just don’t believe things like this can happen.”

They do happen, and unfortunately your life can be changed or even gone in an instant.

Living life without regret is extremely difficult. But if you haven’t hugged your kids for a while, or told your parents ‘I love you’, take the time out and do it.

I remember back in high school, one of those inspirational speakers was addressing our students, and he made one of the kids come up on stage, ring his dad and say “I love you”.

At the time we all thought it was pretty funny and got a good laugh out of it, but looking back it was a special moment to cherish.

You never know the value of someone until you see their empty chair. Remember that this weekend and limit those regrets.

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