Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How's it going?

I sing "Dixie" to my son before he goes to bed. This is something I have done since he was mere weeks old. Why I do this, I do not know. But, I do- and we like my off-key rendition that is quietly whispered into his ear as the sun sets on another day. It's a calm moment after a hectic afternoon and before the "Hail Mary" prayer. Kisses on the head and into bed with a cup of milk and a hand-knitted blanket from a friend.

We buried our nephew last week. It was a long week on my in-laws farm with information and heresy slowly making its way into our bubble, popping our tranquility and grief with both fact and fiction.

How's it going? -- It's the question everyone asks. What they are really wanting to know is...

How do you grieve the death of a young man, three friends and his girlfriend when he was murdered and burned by another? How do you handle it?  

Well, quite simply-- you don't.

Murder-- That's a word that doesn't roll off the tongue without a moment's pause. People write books about murder. It is entertainment for television shows. Murder splashes front page headlines of newspapers and it is the top story of the 5 o'clock national news.

Murder takes your breath away.

It's not something that happens to "your" family-- that "your" being you, it being me… it being us.

I spent my days this past week taking waters and snacks to the sheriff's officers who were guarding the crime scene. Twice daily I made the 15 minute drive there and back. I would go into town for whatever necessities we needed at Wal-Mart and the liquor store. There were many things needed daily at both. This kept my family in their bubble, safe from having to be exposed to the rumors and facts being shared from strangers and friends. In Smalltown, I am another nameless face. 

Back on the farm, we would laugh for a moment and then someone would take another's hand and there were tears.

No one slept well, not even the babies.

Husband and Dude drove to the beach one day, a 2+ hour drive each way, to work on a small cottage that Dude and Cookie are restoring. All Husband wanted to do was demolition for his frustration and anger. Perhaps that is all Dude wanted as well.

We forgot things easily at the top of our minds and remembered to pack things we would not need. Husband packed a suit for a man thirty pounds heavier. Fortunately he packed two more, just in case. I packed eight pair of shoes, three dresses, two pair of shorts and only one shirt.

But, at night, I would find my son and hold him close. Jammies and milk, we would head upstairs to the bathroom where his pack and play was assembled for a make-shift bedroom. "Dixie" in his ear as the sun set and the rain tattered on the tin roof, I laid him down and thought of my nephew.

There were intimate moments that we, as a family, shared and bound us together. We held hands and prayed. We found dark corners of the house to hide and dark places in our minds to find an unknown pool of hatred, anger, love or strength. Finding God, either to praise Him or scream at Him- sometimes in the same sentence seemed perfectly acceptable.

The love our niece has for her brother was humbling. After all five funerals, the officers finally released the crime scene. She was almost immediately there, sifting through the ashes of his room trying to find small mementos of him. An arrowhead, completely black on one side from soot and completely white on the other, his pocketknife- charred, and a piece of metal from his Fender guitar- the guitar mere ashes, but the metal plate still there. From his ashes, that was it.

I would learn from this small gesture that she is made of something tougher than steel, stronger than lead, and softer than silk.

In the end, the man turned himself into the police. As we learned this tragic twist in the mystery novel we were suddenly living, my husband's sister was quick to say, "The end result does not change. Now there are six families mourning instead of five."

The investigation is on-going and it is going to drag facts and time through both good places and bad. It is going to hurt to watch, but justice-- whatever that may be-- must be served through both due-course and with due-rights. I ache for the families that buried their children over those rainy two days. I hurt for the family of the man that is behind bars.

I hurt for the town.

But vengeance won't change the end result. Hatred won't change it, either. What will change the end result is living a little more like my nephew. He was welcoming, inviting, loving, and kind. It is because of people like "Little Man" that make the world spin a little easier and make strangers smile a little more.

Be that change. Be that end result. Resolve to smile more. Resolve to treat strangers as friends. Resolve to be better. Ask how a day is going and sincerely hope for goodness. Engage in genuine conversation.

Sing more.
Make plans.
Play the guitar.
Give high-fives and make them matter. Make them loud.

And love. Love the world. Forgive those that stole from us.

Resolve to be better.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Little Man

His heart was big.
The last time I saw him, his hair was long and the beard was scraggly. But, he was making plans.
He had a girlfriend and she had dimples. Precious dimples and a beautiful smile.

His ability to make conversation was uncanny- I had seen it once before, in my own brother. Jonathan had the personality that was too big to be encapsulated in a small body.
He wasn't small.
"Little Man" was big; bigger than life, it seemed.

I didn't grow up with him. I didn't always understand him. But, I loved talking to him on the front porch during family gatherings. He would sneak off and I knew where to find him. We would talk about his life and his plans. We would talk about his summers, his vacations, his conversations he had with his friends. Sometimes, we would talk about his girlfriends.

He would entertain me. He would make me laugh. Oh, how he could make me laugh.

The running conversation was the topic of food-- we both loved food. The question was, "If you could have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?"

Well, me-- a turkey sandwich, of course. But him? Sushi.

"SUSHI?!" Was always my response. "Really? Are you sure?"

Like I said, I didn't always understand him.

Every time we saw each other thereafter, we would confirm our decisions to see if they had changed. Perhaps we were too stubborn to be proven wrong. Except, honestly, sushi?! A turkey sandwich makes so much more sense.

I would find him on the front porch and bring two cold beers, still wet from the ice and we would sit on the benches or the steps. He would smoke and I would listen.

He knew. He knew he was too big for this world. We talked about it. He would say, "Ya know- I've lived so much in such a short time. I have loved so much. I wonder what's next."

We don't make it down here as often as we should. Husband works, the kids have school, and life gets in the way of life. At some point in the last year, he came out to the farm solo- which was unusual as he always had an entourage with him.

As the house got fuller, I noticed he wasn't around. Two more beers, still wet from the cooler and out the front door to where I knew he was. Bottles popped, I sit down across from him.

Got a girl-- she's nice. Real nice; you'd like her. I love her.


Yeah. We're making plans.

We pause and sip. I keep quiet. He talks more.

She's gorgeous. Damn stunning.

Again, he says- "I have done so much."

"Isn't life beautiful?" I ask.

Yeah- but, damn it's messy.

The door opened and someone came to join the conversation-- at this moment, I forget who. But, we strayed from where we were going.

He was right. It's messy.  It's complicated. There is nothing simple, nothing fair, and nothing easy about it.

But- it is still beautiful.

Little Man died on Monday. There was a house fire, and he was one of five that perished. That beautiful girl with the dimples was with him. As I sit and type, I keep thinking that everyone is coming over tonight and his big personality is going to waltz through that door. He's going to give those great big hugs and make you feel like you are the most important person in the room.

Instead, his parents are meeting with the funeral director in a few hours and final arrangements will be made.

Everyone is still coming over tonight, but I won't be sneaking off to find him on the front porch. He won't be at the glass table outside laughing about old stories from when they were young. It will be quieter, softer, and gentler.

We will still talk about the past, we will still laugh, but we won't be the same. Family gatherings won't be as grand, as big, or as jovial. He will be here-- he will always be here with his sisters, his aunts and uncles, grandparents, and parents.

Life will move on. It will still be beautiful and messy and unfair and complicated and every other adjective. But, it won't be the same without him.

It certainly won't.