July 18, 2014Life is filled with so many great moments, from the joys of watching a child grow up, to witnessing life's benchmarks, and sharing in the successes and accomplishments of our families and friends.
These joys are amplified as we grow older, as we see life through the eyes of the next generation, and we seek to pass on the knowledge and wisdom we have gleaned to make this world a better place after we are gone.
However, there are some storms that rumble through our lifetimes that are incredibly painful to bear, and these times perhaps offer up the hardest lesson of all — that life is short, so make the best out of the days you are blessed with on this earth.
My hands tremble over the keyboard tonight, because it's with a broken heart that I write this week's column. It's a column I hoped I would never have to write.
Stonebridge Press lost a key member of its team last weekend, as staff writer Mark Ashton lost his battle with cancer, leaving a gaping hole in the hearts of his family, friends, newsroom colleagues, and the town of Southbridge — the town he loved.
Last December, Mark took a medical leave of absence after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. After months of chemotherapy, then surgery, then rehab, and enduring roadblock after roadblock, and complication after complication, it was finally too much, and Mark succumbed to the disease Saturday night, July 12.
Over the past few months, Mark's desk in the newsroom sat as he left it in early December, his careful notes, pictures and books neatly stacked, a thin layer of dust forming on everything as the months passed by. I didn't dare touch anything. After all, I had faith he'd be back, better than ever.
Unfortunately, that day would never come, and this company mourns the loss of perhaps one of the greatest writers we have ever had. I would certainly put him in that category among the best, and I don't think I'm the only one that would make such a bold claim.
In the end, Mark fought the good fight with every ounce of energy he had. He didn't let being sick control him. He maintained a positive outlook on life, and loved everyone around him with every second he had left.
Now it's our turn to finish the fight for him.
It was my absolute pleasure to work alongside Mark as his editor for the past couple years. He was fun, always smiling, and always making us laugh in the newsroom with his large arsenal of "punny" one-liners. Many of his stories (and nearly all of his masterpiece columns) made me laugh. He was a humble, gentle soul who never sought his own glory (instead, often glorifying the One who created him) but took pride in his work and loved his job to the fullest.
So, how do I possibly pay tribute in words to a man that had such a command over the art of writing? Would anything I say do him justice? Would anything I share paint the clear picture of the man he was?
I will say that one thing that always struck me about Mark was his wisdom. This really shined through in a recent column he wrote back in June, as he addressed this year's slate of local high school graduates. The piece was written to give his advice to the next generation, but it reads like it could apply to anyone, and as I read it last week one more time, it felt like he was talking to me directly, giving me some sort of parting words to live by.
So, from the keyboard of the man himself, I'll let Mark take it from here:
"Don't trust anyone – but listen to everyone. Then use the God-given common sense, the innate decency, that spark of conscience and personal revelation that all are given. And once you sort through everything, learn to stand for something, lest you end up falling for anything.
"Discover your purpose in being here, and how to make the most of it. It'll involve, no doubt, living with, loving, and serving others — some close, some distant, but all in need of something you can and ought to provide.
"Know that the most important thing(s) you'll ever do will be within the walls of your own home, and that no other successes in life can compensate for failure in the home. Whatever else you achieve, nothing will be as rewarding or productive or fruitful as the knowledge, values, and standards you pass on to those who come after you. 'Let those who come behind us find us faithful.'
"Seek after things that are lovely and virtuous and of good report or praiseworthy. There's enough ugliness and pain in the world already, enough darkness and disdain, enough intolerance and selfishness. Encouraging such stuff follows the formula: 'Garbage in, garbage out.' How about pursuing the path of 'beauty in, beauty out'?
"Know that it's (truly) a wonderful life, no matter what may befall you. Seize the day, the year, the decade, the century. Review the words spoken by Capt. John H. Miller at the end of 'Saving Private Ryan,' wherein he counsels the title's namesake to, 'Earn this. Earn it!'
"Then earn your own chance to live with gratitude and thanksgiving. Move forward. Look to the past, but don't live there. At least not until you're 66 — or 105. Keep purring until you achieve purr-fection, then move on to the next goal or obstacle.
"Life is wonderful, especially if you look at it through eyes of wonder."
You'll never be forgotten, Mark. You were a leader and an inspiration in our newsroom, and your legacy will live on, even though we will never be the same.
I will certainly miss you, Mark. Your life was a 'wonderful' one indeed.
Adam Minor may be reached at (508) 909-4130, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.