My turn

A life is measured not by numbers, but by the values left to us

2014-01-05T00:00:00Z A life is measured not by numbers, but by the values left to usBy Bill Vargo Times Columnist
January 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Our modern lives consist of numbers and their accessories. For every passion, there is a set of associated data, whether that passion be the arts or sciences.

Sports fans are people who revel in the slicing and dicing of numbers. My team does a better job than the competition in this particular area, and I have the numbers to prove it.

Environmentalists can attach data with regard to the number of trees or animals saved in a particular area or over a defined period of time. It is what justifies their efforts.

Business and civic leaders lean on statistics, with arguments for and against often based on the same set of numbers.

All of this brings me to the one thing that we ultimately cannot attach a number to - life. Sure, we can put a number at the beginning and end. So-and-so was born on this date (a number again) and died on this date (still another number).

But how do we measure that person’s life with such a cold set of data? We do and we don’t.

We measure life by the symbol in between the numbers - the hyphen - but we ultimately only attempt to quantify that through obituaries and eulogies.

We might even attempt to put some permanence to things by carving words into a headstone. In the end, we hit only part of the story.

The hyphen is the big mystery. It can be very short for lives that were brief, or very long for those that lived full lives.

In the case of Irene Higgins, the hyphen was long indeed, and very interesting. Part of her story is of a woman who lived in Highland for over 60 years, anchoring her neighborhood and touching the lives of neighborhood children well into adulthood.

Still another part is the story of a mother who raised four girls, was a Girl Scout leader, kept a household and was there for her children through adulthood.

Let’s not forget about being a grandmother and on-call babysitter. During one period, she arose at 5 a.m. to meet me at the front door so that I could drop off our oldest son. He would sleep uninterrupted in the living room while she watched over him. When he awoke, she would be there for him just as she had been countless times before for others.

All this leads to the part of her life that defined her. Higgins was a pediatric nurse at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago. It was everything that she loved, children and being around other people in a caring environment.

Higgins was my mother-in-law, and a person who touched enough lives to fill a football stadium. You cannot define that unless you had the ability to quantify all of those lives, a near impossible task.

So, we are left with the hyphen. In that great mathematical symbol we have a story, a legacy really.

It is the story about what our parents leave us. Sure there may be trinkets and jewels, an old grandfather clock or a cherished quilt. More importantly, our parents leave us their values.

Those values stay with us. It is the conversations that we carry with us forever, little things that mom or dad would say that are burned into our memories. That is our gift, a story well beyond numbers.

The opinions are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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