Erin Murtaugh: Don’t forget how truly lucky people are

Published 9:26 am Thursday, August 11, 2016

Erin Murtaugh is a nursing student at Rasmussen College in Mankato. She can be reached at

Last winter, I wrote a column on a lesson I learned from a photographer named Jeff Newsom on the topic of death and dying. Jeff started his speech with an incredible photo slideshow that gave us just a tiny glimpse into his life. He has experienced so many struggles in his life, yet he has overcome it all and has an amazing outlook on life.

Jeff quoted Richard Dawkins in his talk — which really hit home to me with all this news I had started to receive. The quote was as follows:

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“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

I think about this quote and this speech I was so lucky to hear Jeff give on an almost daily basis now. Dealing with death and dying at work, I find this quote comforting. Having lost so many loved ones to death, I also find this comforting.

As I learned of the loss of Sophie Stultz, my heart broke. It ached. It ached for Sarah and Jason. It ached for her little brother Landon. It ached for every person who got to see even the smallest glimmer of sunshine that Sophie is.

Sarah and my mother immediately bonded when Sarah started at the Tribune years ago. When Sophie was born, my mom and I would occasionally babysit. I remember visiting Sophie in the hospital right after she was born. Even though as Sophie grew older, I saw her less, it was always a joy to see her out and about in public, or at the Tribune office. Seeing Sophie’s smile will be something I miss.

We are lucky. We are lucky to have the lives that we do. We are lucky to have been born in the first place. And so, I leave you with this thought: As we mourn the loss of Sophie, we must remember how truly lucky we are to have had Sophie as a impactful person in our community, even though our time with her was short. We must remember how lucky we are to have Sarah, Jason and Landon in Albert Lea, as they are such good people. We are lucky to have such a great community to come together at a time of tragedy. We are so lucky.