Yesterday we all attended the memorial service for Joey, the neighborhood kid who Jordan had gone to elementary school with, who was very tragically killed in a car accident in Florida two weeks ago. Of all the old parables, I suppose there is none truer than the magnitude of loss felt by parents who must bury a child. Clearly it goes against the natural order of things, and when it happens, it is always tragic. The sad atmosphere surrounding an untimely death like Joe’s makes you think even more about those elemental tenets of what life is about.
When I was in Cleveland in October, and last month, working on a story about the high school Pallbearers Society of St. Ignatius High School, I was continually struck by the sense of distance I felt at those funerals. I always try not to be noticed, though in a big church sometimes, it’s hard. The boys were quite wonderful, uncharacteristically mature, sharing the grief of the families, and doing it in a way which made you feel that they were lucky, in a sense, to understand how to speak to a bereaving family. I don’t think I know a soul who isn’t always trying to find a way NOT to tender thoughts of sorrow when a tragedy strikes. Who really knows WHAT to say or how to say it? Very few of us are intuitive enough to understand those feelings. I know that I always try and figure out a dozen ways to avert eyes, avoid contact – yes I want them to know I am there, that I care, but to actually address it takes a maturity which I find myself lacking in, even after these many years. Yet the simple truth is, there is virtually no loved one who doesn’t appreciate hearing those sentiments whether it be face to face or even on the phone. In the end, when a sad event takes place, we all want to have some kind of support to get through it.
Sitting in a nearly full church, I kept seeing, one by one, parents of other kids from Joe and Jordan’s class. The striking thing to me was realizing how much these parents had changed in the years since I’d seen most of them. As Jordan went to an “alternative” (thank God for that!) public High School, many of her grade school buddies went off to different schools, and naturally, we saw less of the parents. Joe, who died before his twenty-first birthday, had grown into a handsome young man. The recent picture of him on the program showed a strong, intense looking face, yet I think I could still see a lot of that amused, mischievous look which always seemed to be his forte as a kid. No one was quicker in the line to have fun, or share a laugh than he was. And even though the picture betrayed a certain maturity, I think that glint of humor was still there.
It always surprises me when I realize that everyone my age, or older, was once 17 or 11, or 4. When you meet people as adults, it’s rare enough that we understand them at that age, right away, let alone, what kind of kids they were. Some old farts seem as if they have always been like that. Seeing those greying faces of parents yesterday, all of whom were painted with a patina of gloom, reminded me that we don’t really have a choice in our aging. If you want to get to be an older person, you have to do it one day at a time. And while getting there should be the fun (not ½ the fun, way MORE than half I would hope), sometimes following our contemporaries can be a testing experience. Grace is the key. If you are lucky enough to grow old, try and do it with grace, and accept these changes. I suspect it makes the destination itself a lot more fun, amusing, and filled with the kind of things which give one satisfaction. I’m saddened that Joe won’t have the chance to become an old fart. I could imagine him grey haired, and maybe even walking with a cane, yet still full of the impish fun which marked his youth. May we all carry a bit of what he might of been with us, and try to let some of who he was live on. We’re just sayin’ .... David