Cory Hatch was a unique kid. For example, as a high school sophomore in a rural school, he often had that telltale ring in the back pocket of his jeans. A new teacher would approach him:
“Cory, give me your chewing tobacco.”
Looking innocent, he responded indignantly: “I don’t have any tobacco.”
“C’mon, Cory. You know you’re not allowed to have tobacco at school.”
“I don’t have any tobacco.”
“Cory, just give me what’s in your right rear pocket.”
Cory would reach in his pocket and hand the teacher a roll of electrical tape-which just happened to be the same size and shape as a can of common chewing tobacco.
For anyone else, that might seem like a case of pure mischief-deliberately baiting teachers. For Cory it was different. He was having fun before he died.
Cory was born with cystic fibrosis. Not only was his disease a death sentence for him, it overtook his life, entailing hours of breathing treatments patiently administered by his loving mother every night. And it meant that he was the shortest and smallest student in the school. He may have weighed 80 pounds in high school. By10th grade, he had already outlived his life expectancy. Though he lived with the threat of death, he lived his life joyously.
I remember Cory joshing other kids. He didn’t have the size or strength to intimidate anyone, but he had the wits and personality to leave a lasting impression on many lives.
There was another small student at the school. The football players liked to pick him up and shove him headfirst into garbage cans. But Cory didn’t allow them to do that with him. He didn’t plead poor health. He didn’t ask for pity. Nope. If any football players came at him, he turned to face them squarely. Picture this tiny guy facing a crowd of menacing footballers two to three times his size. “Just a minute guys. You need to think about this.” When he had their undivided attention, he declared, “If you shove me in that garbage can, I will be forced to beat the hell out of every one of you.” Everyone laughed and Cory never went in a garbage can.
Cory’s IQ did not set him apart. No. It was his positivity and sense of humor. He enjoyed life and he intended to live it to the fullest.
At the end of his sophomore year, Cory wrote in my yearbook: “From one of the most kind-hearted, well-mannered, intelligent persons you have ever had in a class. Cory Hatch” He’s right. Yet I would add more. He was one of the most clever, savvy, sensitive, and vibrant people I ever knew. I love him.
When Cory left to go to college and no longer had his mother’s care, he died. As one of his teachers and his scout leader, I was asked to speak at his funeral. I realized how profoundly that little man impacted my life.
Cory defied the odds. He had the risk factors for many kinds of human misery. Yet he lived vibrantly.
Most of us assume that our level of happiness depends on our circumstances. We tell ourselves that the challenges and burdens of our lives mean we have little choice but to feel unhappy and disheartened. But research tells us that our choices have far more impact on our happiness than our circumstances. Cory’s example confirms that the people who are happier are not so because they have optimal life circumstances. They are happier because they choose to focus on whatever is positive and joyful about life.
Thank you, Cory, for your life and your example. I hope all of us will choose to live as vibrantly as you did. I can’t wait to see you again.
Invitation: Who are the people you know who have lived vibrantly? What can you learn from them to live your life more fully?
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful suggestions on this article.