BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
My high school classmate, Matt Lignell, died suddenly of a massive heart attack on New Year’s Eve after making dinner for his mom. Matt and I attended Luther High School South together (Class of 87), and we remained casual friends into our early 20s. What shocking and sad news.
I’m going to be honest with you. We were not close friends, nor had I seen him in 30 years. But this peculiar Facebook world we live in allowed me to follow more of Matt’s life over the past 10 years or so than people in other eras would get to experience if they fell out of touch with someone for 3 decades. There are many negatives to Facebook, but there are also positives such as being able to learn about the lives (and successes) of old or current friends and family. I followed Matt’s life on Facebook and occasionally liked or commented on his posts—and he did the same on my page.
Matt was many things: a lover of food and cooking; a fan of the Grateful Dead; and an opinionated, never-Trumper just like me. He liked a good drink and a good smoke. He was passionate about what he loved and what he thought about the world. He cared about racial and social justice. His posts were often interesting or funny, or both—whether spotlighting his latest culinary project (“food porn” as he called it); his arguments with family and others about racism, socialism, and Republicans; or discussing any other topic that struck his interest. It was clear that he loved and doted on his mother, who lives in Florida. He was about to move to the Sunshine State to pursue a job opportunity and to be closer to his mom. Matt was helpful to others. He recently sent me the name of a contractor amidst some plumbing troubles we were facing. On election day, he offered to take people to the polls.
Matt’s time on earth also proved that you could change your life with hard work and some help from medical science. I found this to be the most interesting and inspiring aspect of Matt in recent years. Throughout his life, Matt had a serious, self-professed weight issue. When he sought help, he was hundreds of pounds overweight and in great health danger. He underwent gastric bypass surgery (I think that’s the procedure he had) and followed a physical rehabilitation and exercise regimen that made him a new person. Matt posted frequently about his weight-loss journey on Facebook. He was honest about life’s challenges and his efforts to address them. You could see the physical evidence in the before/after photos he posted, but also in his smile and the confidence in his posts. The “after photos” showed a man who literally had a great weight taken from him, and Matt glowed with pride and renewing health. It made me happy to see the change in him. I think many people found it inspiring and a needed “good news” story in these challenging times. We were all rooting for him.
As we get older, it’s harder to change. We get stuck in destructive or nonproductive habits or cycles that seem overwhelmingly hard to quit. Sometimes we put our heads in the sand and fail to acknowledge addictions, unhealthy relationships, having to show up for the same soulless job every day, or other life challenges. Or we admit them, but feel powerless to change them. I’ve been there at times like I think most other people. Matt showed us that this was untrue. He made the hard changes that were necessary to give himself a better life. I admired his will to improve himself, and I celebrated as a Facebook and Luther South friend the successes he had after doing so.
Matt died far too young, and it is incredibly unfair that he passed after he had worked to improve himself and was about to start a new life. But Matt’s life tells us that things can get better if we try and work hard to improve ourselves. There is nothing written in stone that our lives have to stay the way they are, and Matt proved that. Matt’s sudden death also shows us that nothing is promised and that we better get moving if we want to improve ourselves. It is never too late to lose the weight (as Matt did), go back to school, start a family (or foster children), begin a new career, fight an addiction, leave an unhealthy relationship, or do something fun and new such as learning to cook, learning a new language, traveling the world, learning to paint or play the guitar, or going skydiving. Although Matt and I weren’t close friends, I’ll miss following his life on Facebook—his food porn posts, his opinions about politics and movies, and his other occasional posts that made me laugh, sometimes caused me to disagree, or simply brightened my day as I scrolled Facebook.
Rest in peace, Matt.
Some of you who read this appreciation of Matt knew him much better than I did. If you have a fond memory of Matt, please post it below in the comments feature. Thank you.
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes
Copyright (photos) family of Matt Lignell
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.