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Goeun Park: Maybe being careful isn’t so far-fetched

A few days ago, I heard a student from the University of Minnesota passed away during winter break. She drowned in the Chicago River. I never got her name.

Yesterday, I went to visit a friend from my childhood hometown to kill some time before my evening flight back to the west coast. We were eating cake around her kitchen counter when I saw the local paper’s headline — something about a drowned girl who’ll be missed. The news sounded familiar.

Her name was Lauren Li and she graduated from Burnsville High School, the school I would have attended if I didn’t move to Detroit Lakes more than seven years ago. We went to the same elementary school, three grades apart. We probably never met.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about funerals. Namely, how I’ve never been to one.

I’m one of those rare, fleetingly lucky souls who have never been to a funeral and never had to think about going to one. I know very little about loss, and I wish it could stay that way.

As morbid as it may sound, I remember directing my friends how they should prepare my funeral. There had to be cupcakes and cool party favors, like polaroid cameras and snow globes. If they gave away lame stuff, my ghost would come back to haunt them.

I’m exaggerating a little, but I really was one of those people who planned things obsessively. I planned all my high school classes in first semester of freshmen year. I planned on living in a city. I planned on pleasantly dying from old age.

I’m slowly coming to the realization that I shouldn’t count on the last one.

I used to think adults who frequently said “watch out” or “be careful” were overbearingly cautious, but the older I get, the more I realize that it’s not a bad idea. Life shouldn’t be taken for granted. It’s a trite saying, but it’s true.

These days, I have a harder time convincing myself I’m invincible. Death by hypothermia or the swine flu are not just things that happen to other people. There is no such thing as being too young to kick the bucket.

My dad was always fond of telling me that people never plan on getting into accidents, and I’d always nod and smile and carry on as usual. This time, I think I’ll let his advice sink in a little deeper. I can’t plan on not dying, but I can drive slower, avoid dark alleys, and not jump into rivers in the middle of winter.

I can be a little more attentive. I hope everyone else can, too.

Goeun Park graduated from DLHS and attends college in California.