*For those of you visiting today for a smile, I will warn you that this one is a little melancholy. But it’s a story you should know in order to understand me. There’s a challenge at the bottom, so hang in there until the end.
Many folks lost their innocence on September 11, 2001. I lost mine nearly a year earlier on September 23rd, 2000. That’s the day my 13 year old nephew died. Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of Chance’s death. Seven years ago he left us in a sudden tragic accident that has forever changed our family and the way I look at the world. The loss was enormous, the pain unimaginable and the healing, well, that’s been a slow process. Like the folks shaken by September 11th, I now know that security can disappear in a heartbeat.
I remember the phone call with vivid detail. Sunday morning. Six o’clock. The ring jarred me from bed, and I caught my breath when I saw the number on the caller ID. I braced myself for bad news because the call was from Sissy. Her diabetes ravaged husband had been to the brink of death more than once, and we knew his fate was inevitable. We had expected bad news about him for a while. We didn’t expect the news to be about Chance. It just didn’t seem possible. Chance and his best friend had been in-line skating at an industrial park when they were swept up in the run-off from a sudden rain. Both boys drowned. At first they were only missing. Hours later the dogs turned up their bodies in the water, and Sissy was introduced to a priest.
Answering the phone that morning was like hopping on a runaway train that wouldn’t stop. It set into motion some of the most painful moments of my life. Telling Hubby that the nephew he spoiled and cherished was gone. Watching Mama J. and Papa T. crumple under grief and explaining to our seven year old daughter that her brother like cousin would never eat watermelon with her again. And worst of all, trying to prop up Sissy and her husband during the worst of all possible losses, their only child.
The three hour drive to Sissy’s house was surreal. Cars whizzing by. People going about their every day business while we felt stuck in time. The news didn’t truly sink in until we arrived at our hotel and saw a news story about it on the television. Even though it was a major metropolitan city, the story was big news. Every television newscast. The front page of the newspaper. Everywhere, somebody was reminding us of the tragic nature of the accident. We staggered through four days of planning, services, homemade meals and well wishes. I cried non stop for four days. I simply couldn’t stop. There was just so much pain. Chance was the closest thing to a son Hubby and I will ever have. He spent part of his summer with Mama J. and Papa T. every year, bouncing between their house and ours. He was the only person who ever slept in our guest bedroom. Teen Angel worshipped the ground he walked on, and clung to him like glue. She would have followed him across the Mojave Desert barefoot. We loved that child dearly. The rip in our hearts was deep and jagged.
We buried him on a crisp, autumn day. As I stood in that little country cemetery numb to the preacher’s words and blinded by the sun, I realized that amidst the enormous loss, I had been given a gift by that smart, beautiful boy who had brightened our lives. That gift was the realization that life can be very, very short. It is not always what you expect it to be, and it is to be lived fully…every day…without exception. The clothes, the cars, the fancy homes really aren’t worth two figs in the end. It's not about living the good life. It's about good living. I try to practice that every day. It's why I dance when no one else does, sing really loud even though I can't carry a tune and laugh, laugh, laugh. I don't sweat the small stuff anymore. I know what tough really is, and most of my daily challenges are really not that tough when I consider how rough some folks have it.
A second gift I received from Chance is courage, courage to get out of my comfort zone. I'm not afraid to try difficult things anymore. Why should I be? I've already done the hardest thing I will likely ever have to do, help to bury a child. Everything else has to be much easier, right? After his funeral I came home and asked for a very challenging job promotion that I had been scared to ask for. I got it. I succeeded at it, and five years later, when I felt the call to a new career, I took that leap without much fear.
These two gifts were expensive, so I try very hard not to squander them. Each day I remember my dear nephew by using his gifts wisely. I will remember him tomorrow with a couple of tears, but mostly with pride for the dynamic young man he was and for the light he brought into my life. He was kind, generous and giving to others, so my challenge to you, my friends, is to help me remember him by being kind to others. I encourage each of you to commit a random act of kindness this next week, and come back and share it with me when you're done. If you're a lurker and don't want to reveal yourself, then post anonymously. It's about the act, not the name. Feel free to pass this along to your readers and challenge them in Chance's memory too. The world could use a little more kindess these days.
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