How do we define a life well lived?
On the morning of Sept. 15, two volunteer firefighters, 22-year-old William Waldner and his cousin, 20-year-old Jacob Waldner, were killed by an explosion while extinguishing a coal bin fire at the Hutterite Sunset Colony. Jacob's father, Jack, was also injured in the blast.
Tragedies like this force us to face the fragility of our lives. They remind us that we must live our lives well and make the best use of our time on earth because our end can come suddenly and without warning.
Jacob and William lived their lives well.
Both young men were raised and educated at the Sunset Colony. Jacob worked with his father, serving the colony as assistant electrician. William also was a dedicated worker for his people. Both were members of large, close-knit families.
William and Jacob chose to go well beyond their daily work and family responsibilities to train as certified firefighters.
Class instructors Jesse Luce Jr. and Gene Wolter worked closely with them and their classmates over a period of 18 months. They described the young men as ambitious, courageous, intelligent, good-humored and full of life and goodness.
The young men brought energy and enthusiasm to every task, however small or mundane.
When something needed to be done, William and Jacob were the first to volunteer. They were showing that spirit on the morning of their deaths, staying on to douse a flare-up of the fire as other volunteers returned to their daily work. William and Jacob's simple devotion to their community embodied the Hutterite ideal. In their community life, the colonies seek to imitate the early Christian church described in the Acts of the Apostles, All who believed were together and had all things in common.
At the funeral, fellow firefighters from as far away as the Black Hills and North Sioux City gathered with the Hutterite community. These men and women understand firsthand the courage, sacrifice and dedication required of a firefighter, and so they came to show their respect for William and Jacob, and to share, even if in a small way, the sorrow and sense of loss felt at Sunset.
At the funeral, the minister expressed the community's simple, rock-solid faith. Through their pain, they accepted the deaths of the young men as God's will.
In the words of Job, The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. The minister challenged those attending to be sure that their own lives were founded on Christ and to live in such a way as to be ready for the day of judgment that comes to us all.
Jacob and William chose to live a simple life grounded on faith in God, hard and honest work and a cheerful, selfless devotion to family and community.
I can't help but believe that the Lord welcomed these young men into his kingdom with the words of the Gospel, Well done, good and faithful servants.
Martin Albl teaches religious studies at Presentation College. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.