March 13, 2024–I sometimes think about Vicki.

Vicki was a high school classmate I grew up with back in our small hometown. We both came from large Catholic families, started Kindergarten together, attended catechism and received first communion together, shared secrets on the grade school playground, and graduated from high school together. She was a normal, happy, carefree, Midwestern farm kid that I came to think of as another sister.

After graduation, we went our separate ways, and I heard no more about her. Until eight years later when my mom told me that her mother had asked if I would be a pallbearer at Vicki’s funeral.

I was out of the country at the time, and unable to get back home. I learned later that Vicki had been murdered in Appalachia while traveling to a festival. Forty-five years later the crime is still unsolved.

That is the reason I think about Vicki from time to time. As I pass those little milestones that we take for granted, I ponder how she never got to experience them.

If she had continued pursuing her life of travel and adventure, she missed out on seeing new countries, tasting exotic foods, visiting inspiring structures, works of art, and natural wonders, climbing mountains, riding rapids, or swimming in cold oceans.

Had she opted for a more domestic life, she never tasted the deliciousness of finding a mate, getting married, buying a home, starting a career.

As I and my classmates age and welcome new grandchildren, Vicki was never able to experience holding her offspring, watch them grow up, make their own first communions, or give her grandchildren of her own.

But I mostly think about Vicki when I am considering whether or not to take any sort of action–making a new investment, learning a new instrument, starting a new business, chasing a new client. Getting “the works” on my hamburger. Adding the sports package on that new car. Buying the premium ice cream.

To risk. To win. To lose. To fail. To learn. To try again.

Many of us go out of our way to avoid ambiguous situations. Choosing between any two options makes us uncomfortable, or more accurately–discomfortable.

When facing those types of decisions, I think of Vicki. She was denied the fear and elation of choosing between two outcomes, of taking the risk. That, after all, is the essence of what it means to be alive.

Those who know me know I am not an adventurous soul in terms of the grand gesture. You won’t find me jumping out of airplanes or climbing to base camp. I’m more tuned these days to experiences that don’t require tying shoes. My most recent leap was springing for Templeton’s 6-year rye rather than my usual 4-year bottle.

But I bought it because I thought about how Vicki would never be able to taste it. So how appropriate to toast her with it.