It has been a while, too long, I suppose, since my last post. It is easy to walk away, to ignore the important and focus on the immediate. But full disclosure, it isn’t life that got in the way. It was me—me got in the way. It has been five years since our son was killed in a MVA and I shut down. Logic dictates that as time goes on, memories and emotion fade so anniversaries should get easier. Who hasn’t forgotten an anniversary? Right? Not so fast.
I continue to be surprised how my body seems to take over, my thoughts get channeled, and my feelings restricted. My sleep is interrupted, and even my appetite and activity is limited. “What is happening?” I think. Then I realize—it’s July again. July morphs into August, my son’s birthday, and now it’s September. Three months? That’s like a season of grief. One quarter of the year. I know, I did the math. That’s, well extensive. Ya think?
So this year I did something, well, extensive, you could say. I planned a mega memorial tour. The plan was to build my own chopper and ride it to Colorado and on to South Dakota. That’s where Aaron was going before he was cut down at an intersection outside of Denver.
Unfortunately, my bike wasn’t ready, my speaking dates were not materializing, and my live Facebook spots were not connecting in cyberspace. But I drove my truck without A.C. to Colorado, sleeping at State Parks along the way. I arrived in Denver the day of the anniversary, so I did something dramatic. I bought a poster board and using my finger, I painted in red paint:
Five years ago today my son was killed here.
Please look left and turn right to honor him.
Then I stood at the very intersection and forced motorists to read my little sign. I forced them to think. And decide. Some drove around me, some honored my wish, some talked to me. I hated every minute. I hated being that guy. The guy with the somber expression. That guy whose stare goes right through you. That guy that no matter what you say, nothing will change, nothing will help.
I told no one. The next day I rented a motorcycle and rode with my son’s boss, his boss’s wife, and their friends to Sturgis, SD. I’m an intermediate rider at best and riding with a group, no matter what level, is difficult for me. I white-knuckled my way through beautiful mountain scenery, slaloming through curves, past antelope, and around reservoirs. I slowed down, I sped up, I held my breath, and I clutched so hard my fingers ached, my leg had kinked, and my goggles fogged.
Through the rain, the cold, and the prairie sun, I made it. I made it. Goal achieved. Totally out of my element and caught up in the world of loud pipes, big bikes, big hair, and bigger men. My head hurt for a week. But my group stood by me, they rode along side of me, like a well-trained squad, they vowed to leave no man behind. They knew my reason for being there, they knew my weakness, they let me be me and took care of me.
I checked the box, I got to experience a little of what my son experienced. I went places I never dreamed of, saw sights I never imagined, and people I didn’t know existed. I got out of Dodge and was happy to head home, back to a world I knew.
On one of my last nights on the road, I pulled into a campsite, but I couldn’t sleep. I was miserable after a week and a half, I wanted out, I wanted home. I just sat in my truck. No A.C., in the south, sweat trickled down my back. Sometime after midnight I turned the key and headed down the road wondering if anything I did for the past ten days was worth the effort. I didn’t need gas, but I pulled into a convenience store. I wasn’t tired but I went inside to get a cup of coffee.
“I have to work a 12-hour shift, the clerk blurted out, “And I have to work a second job tomorrow. Oh, and I just found out my 15-year-old son ran away tonight.” I wasn’t hungry but I picked up one of those huge cookies wrapped in plastic wrap.
I didn’t know what to say but I knew I was called to this moment. I knew instantly. There are times in our life when we look back and know that God was leading us through the valley. But rarely, there are times we know at the time that God is present. This was one of those rare moments. I felt his presence. I had purpose. But like Moses, I didn’t know what to say.
I said, “I’m sorry.” Our eyes met. I felt his pain when a woman burst through the door. “If he wants to live like a gangsta then he can live with his gangsta friends she said loudly.
“That’s my wife, his mother,” the clerk quietly said.
I turned to leave. “I’m sorry.” Again, I had nothing. When I reached the door the woman said, “Do you want a 15-year-old?” I stopped and turned back.
“Well, I had three 15-year-olds at home at a long time ago but one of them wanted to run away,” I heard myself say. “With tears in my eyes I convinced him to stay. Then when he was eighteen, he moved out and found himself in more trouble. He called me and asked to come home. Again, I had tears in my eyes, but he came home and got his life together. Thing is, five years ago he was killed. He had a wonderful life. But, yea, I guess I do want a 15-year-old again.”
The panic in her eyes melted. This mother got it. The father joined her. “You have a lot to work out,” I said, “Just breathe and remember, things can be worse, much worse. I’m going to pray for you all.”
As I left the store, the father said, “Please pray for us, sir.”
“I already am.”
I passed her minivan. Inside was a car seat holding a toddler with Down’s Syndrome. As I headed down the road I thought of all the clever things I could have said. Maybe I should have stayed longer, maybe I could have prayed with them, maybe…. But I didn’t. I did what I believe I was led to do. I had purpose, and the past two weeks of misery, pleasure, and pain were worth every mile.
Now I am thinking about next year, next anniversary. Next year. Sturgis?