Tag Archives: tragedy

Let Us Join With Rachel As She Weeps

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Rachel weeping I was all prepared to write something funny or something Christmasy as would befit the season, but this morning’s events in Connecticut have jolted me from that path and brought new sadness as well as sadness of memory to what should be the most wonderful time of the year. Earlier this morning, 24-year-old Ryan Lanza went into his mother’s 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered a kindergarten classroom in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, shot and killed his mother, and opened fire on the children. All we know for certain at the moment is 18 children — all under age ten — are dead along with eight of their teachers. Those numbers could rise. Lanza’s mother was found dead later.

This hurts me on more levels than I can adequately express. For one, I was a high school teacher in the black days of Columbine and the spate of copycat killings which followed. My colleagues and I talked about little else during that awful period because we were completely aware it could easily happen to us. We all knew students — TAUGHT students — who were ticking time bombs whom we were powerless to help. I must have run over an attack scenario in my mind hundreds of times. I even set up my classroom to provide maximum cover for students should someone think the unthinkable. The school supposedly had a plan; I know I did and I told my students if they heard gunshots they only had to remember one instruction, “follow Coach Wham.” My children knew how seriously I took the phrase in loco parentis and if anyone was getting shot, it would be me or over my dead body.

As someone who struggles with mental issues of my own, I also hurt because I KNOW this young man had to be mentally disturbed in some way, shape or form. Normal, well-adjusted people do not kill innocent babies in cold blood; they simply don’t; not even in wartime. That’s why the epithet of “baby killer” is one of the most terrible insults anyone can spew at a soldier. I have no idea what will eventually come to light, but I’m willing to bet someone somewhere is thinking right now “I KNEW this was going to happen. I saw all the signs.” I know what it feels like to cry out for help in all the wrong ways and to feel so helplessly out of control and at the mercy of my own mind. I’m just thankful that my anger has always turned inward because I can’t imagine doing something like this on the worst unmedicated day I’ve ever had, but at the same time I ache terribly for someone so consumed he could find no other means towards peace than this massacre which ended with him taking his own life.

This tragedy disturbs me and angers me as well because I am a gun owner and a gun supporter, but I know it won’t be long until some politician tries to make a name for himself by leading a crusade against firearms. First of all, it makes me want to puke whenever I see some little political worm making political hay out of a tragedy like this. It cheapens the deaths of these innocents and it paints even more innocent people with an unfairly broad brush. I will soon be 42 and been around guns all my life, but I have yet to see one that could act of its own free will. Legislators can ban anything they want but until they can ban evil and hatred from the human heart they don’t have a chance of stopping violence because laws do not affect people who have no intention of following the laws in the first place.

Most of all, however, this awful episode deeply saddens me as a Christian. I know, as surely as I know stop signs are red, people are going to start throwing out expressions like “Where’s this ‘God’ of yours now?” They’ll ask, “How could a God who’s supposed to love us let this happen to CHILDREN?” They’ll claim, “I’ll never follow or believe in a God who is powerless to stop this kind of evil.” And it will go on and on. Atheists like Richard Dawkins have a field day whenever a tragedy like this occurs because they point at it as proof God doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, too many people won’t look for answers and will believe this wrong thinking.

Where was God? He was where He’s always been — sitting on the throne of Heaven completely aware of everything that has ever happened, is happening, or ever will happen from eternity past to eternity future. The hard truth is, God knew this was going to happen before the plan ever became a thought in the poor deranged gunman’s mind. What so many people fail to realize is “knowing” something isn’t the same as “causing” something.

So, why does God “let” these things happen? That’s a have your cake question. Sure, God can “make” His creations (that’s us) do whatever He wants us to do, but that’s a one way street. Make us do something once, we’ll be made to do everything forever. It’s free will. We all praise and love the idea of “freedom” and “free will” but most of us don’t want to acknowledge the fact that “freedom” means just that — and if we’re free to do good; we’re also free to do otherwise. Without free will, we would never have anything like school shootings, but we’d never have anything like the Mona Lisa or the Empire State building either. Free will is all about choices and in order to free us to make good choices, God had to acknowledge some of us would make bad choices. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

Finally, let me say one thing to those who can’t believe God could allow / do something like this AND to all the parents who lost their precious children in this horrible tragedy, God understands EXACTLY how you feel. He is a parent. He had an only child too — a son actually — who was also killed by hate filled, unfeeling men, with one important difference — God DID allow His Son to be killed. God knew from eternity past that His only beloved son would die, and He knew He would STAND ASIDE and allow it to happen even as that Son begged His Father for rescue. God the Eternal, Perfect Father watched His son die so that we could live. I do not pretend to understand it, but I know it is so. So for all the parents and loved ones who lost children today, understand that you are understood by the One who catches your tears in a bottle. If you will reach out to Him, even in this darkest hour, you will find Him waiting to comfort you.

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Ten Years or Another Lifetime? Most Nights, I Don’t Know.

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Read ’em and weep. I know I did.

I was on my way to being very chipper and upbeat this morning until I looked at the calendar and saw the date was October 23. I had almost forgotten . . . the key being ALMOST.

Ten years ago this afternoon, at 1:00 PM to be precise, life handed me the mother of all lemons. Actually, that’s a little too “cutesy.” The long story is ten years ago this morning I took one of the Magnificent 7, which is my euphemism for the seven events that radically changed my life for the worse. Each of the seven were hammer blows against my emotional well-being and each of the seven — in seven different ways — shattered me mentally and emotionally as easily as a cinder block dropped from a highway overpass will shatter a vehicle’s windshield and with about as much warning. Ten years ago today, following a short and slanderous hearing at 301 Camperdown Way, I was summarily and officially dismissed from my teaching post at Woodmont High School.

The short story is I was lied to and about, publicly humiliated, then fired from teaching. I’d been exiled from the one place where I’d normally felt safest, happiest, and strongest. For the first time in my life, I had been kicked out of school.

I plan to post all the documents I still have from the hearing and the aftermath. When I do, you can read them for yourselves. I don’t have the mental energy to type out that story here. I love this blog. It’s not much, but it’s mine and I’ve tried to steer clear of controversy and painful memories, but to deny the scars is to deny the events which caused them and any event that makes you seriously question whether or not you really want to go on living in a world where things like this can happen to you is much too important to be ignored.

I haven’t had many things happen to me that have affected me as much or as long as getting fired did. It was two years before I was able to get back into teaching for good and I wouldn’t have gotten a break then except my alma mater needed an English teacher and the assistant principal had been my Geometry teacher and the principal had student taught my senior class in something or other. They knew me personally so they didn’t really look at anything from “The File.”

It wasn’t the same though. For one thing, Thomas Wolfe was absolutely right when he said, “You can’t go home again.” Teaching in what had been my AP English classroom in my senior year forced me every day for 180 straight days to confront ANOTHER one of the Magnificent 7 so when a library job opened up one district over, I took it.

So, it’s been ten years and the pain is just as fresh in my mind now as it was then. I can still taste the metallic tang of pure adrenaline fueled fear in my mouth when I think about the hearing. I can still see the faces of the “witnesses.” More than anything though, I can still hear the thunderous silence of the people I had called friends and colleagues for almost nine years. I had helped these people in more ways than I can imagine. I’d tried to be there for them, but when I was strung up and dangling, none of them . . . NOT A SINGLE ONE bothered to vouch for my character.

I remember leaving the district office with Budge in tears and Mama in a rage like I hadn’t seen on her face since I was a third grader and Ray Bates’ mother (God rest her soul) grabbed me by the collar and shook me because I had finally stood up to Ray’s bullying. People have asked me if I was angry and I always tell them I was too concerned with keeping Mama and Budge from getting locked up to be angry. I just wanted to get home.

Thirty minutes after leaving the pillory, I went back to the school and to the room I’d called home for so long. It was a mess because the string of subs who had kept the class during my six weeks suspension while I awaited a hearing hadn’t been able to control my hellions or my brilliant AP History students. While I was gathering my things, the assistant principal who had been the main “detective / witch hunter” for my case came into the room and asked me “So how’d things go?” I still thank God and 300 mg of Effexor CR for not decking her in her smug little mouth right then. As it was, I snatched my posters from the wall, took a few folders from my filing cabinet, and collected my most prized belongings from my beautiful desk that my friend Brian Ashley had helped me restore five summers before , then I walked out.

I’ve never been back.

Now as a sorry excuse for a Christian, I do not believe in karma, but sometimes it is tempting when I consider this. None of the three students whose complaints against me triggered the whole debacle ever graduated from high school. The principal who threw me under the bus didn’t make it through the year herself but was dismissed in disgrace partly because parents complained to the district office about her attending home football games about “two and a half sheets to the wind” as we say in the country. The superintendent who was such a jerk over the entire thing was fired by the school board within a year, partly over allegations of misconduct with a couple of female principals and partly for just basically being an ass of the 33rd degree. Finally, the district lawyer who prosecuted my case was fired and arrested a few years later after a district computer technician found alleged child pornography on the computer in the lawyer’s office. The child porn charges were eventually dropped because no one could prove the boys were underage, but the computer crimes stuck and he may still go to jail.

Coincidence or karma? You decide.

Love y’all. Keep the faith and the feet clean.

They Say It Never Rains In Upstate South Carolina

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Actually, what “they” say is, “Seems it never rains in Southern California.” Still, I think it’s apropos, especially considering the rest of the chorus of that Albert Hammond one-hit wonder goes

Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California
But girl, don’t they warn ya
It pours man it pours

Well the last three weeks, it has POURED. Literally and metaphorically. I’m talking frog-strangling, log-floating, fish-choking deluges of biblical proportions and at the moment, Father Noah is awol and they’s nary an Ark in sight. I mean, I’ve been through some rough patches in my life. It happens to us all. I understand that. The Bible says the Lord makes it rain on the just and the unjust alike. We all take our turn in the barrel as the old crude joke punchline says. Here lately though, I think I’m getting my rain and someone else’s monsoon to boot.

Let me give you, my beloved readers, a quick rundown on the last three weeks around Chez Wham.

  1. I lost or misplaced or had my iPod stolen. It was old, but it was mine and it had all my iUni podcasts on it.
  2. Budge’s pool, or as I like to call it “that godforsaken swamp in my backyard,” has eaten chemicals like I eat wintergreen Lifesavers. I hate that pool.
  3. Daddy had to go to Charleston to have a heart cath because his last nuclear stress test wasn’t what it should have been. Turns out he has a touch of heart damage at the bottom of his heart so he’s going to have to add some heart medicine to his daily regime.
  4. My nephew, Mason, had a horrendous allergic reaction to an antibiotic he was taking and for three days, Nick and Sissy though they were going to have to hospitalize him. He was head to toe red welts. He’s better now, but it was terrifying.
  5. Mama’s home healthcare nurse sat her down and explained that her C.O.P.D. has reached the terminal stages. She’s not going down without a fight, but I’m afraid most of the fight has gone out of her. I’m looking at life without my Mama sooner instead of later.
  6. Budge has been gone for two weeks this summer in the midst of all this mess going on and anyone who knows me KNOWS how well I do when I don’t have my Budge around to moderate my moods for me.
  7. Our DSL and phone lines had to be replaced because they were slowly giving up the ghost. Some people might say home internet is frivolous; those people are not teachers.
  8. The pastor on staff at church whom I was always closest to and would have turned to in the midst of all this mess was dismissed from the staff for good cause. To quote Forrest, “and that’s all I’m gonna say about that.”
  9.  I got a surprise from the IRS in the form of a tax bill to cover a mistake I made two years ago. Uncle Sam wants about $3000 of “his” money back. People in Hell want ice water, too. One more payment a month.
  10. Three of four tires on my beloved Honda Element have picked up nails or screws in the shoulders beyond the range of the tire company’s ability to safely patch them. The fourth tire was already patched. I don’t have road hazard protection on them. Lately, I’ve been riding around with an air compressor in the back.
  11. The back porch at the Ancestral Manse (Mama’s house) caught on fire and burned 1/4 of the structure. It’s now unsafe to walk on, much less get Mama’s wheelchair up or down. Estimated cost to replace? Somewhere in the $1K to $3.5K range depending on lumber costs.
  12. JUST LAST NIGHT, I was washing clothes and the sink and both tubs started gurgling like a demon had possessed them. I went in our bathroom to see what was wrong and met an inch of water standing in the floor with more coming from the porcelain throne. It was all thick with lint and suds. Septic tank’s full after 16 years. Cost to get it pumped? At LEAST $350. Might as well be three million.

Now I didn’t tell you all that to get pity and I don’t want anything from anyone. I just had to get all this off my chest or I was going to explode. I’m a talker and sometimes I just feel better getting everything out. Kind of like squeezing a boil.  It has LITERALLY been from one thing to another this entire summer. Like I said before, poop happens. I know everybody’s got troubles. I also know that misery loves company and, sweet brothers and sisters, I could use some company right along now.

Still love y’all and try to keep those feet clean!

100 Years Since “A Night to Remember”

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The last known picture of the "unsinkable" RMS Titanic as she left harbour for her rendezvous with fate.

At 2:20 AM, 100 years ago this morning, the RMS Titanic‘s keel broke in two just before she dove 2.3 miles down to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean carrying nearly 1,000 people to the Stygian depths with her. Around 500 more unfortunate souls were swept from her swiftly tilting decks into the sub-freezing waters of the North Atlantic to drown or die of hypothermia or shock within minutes of entering the water.

The disastrous sinking of the Titanic is the subject of thousands of articles, hundreds of websites, a multitude of full length books, and at least eight full length feature films . . . and that’s just in English. The individual triumphs and tragedies of surrounding the voyage are the stuff of legends and people like the ebullient buoyant “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, the craven coward J. Bruce Ismay, or tragically shortsighted Captain Edward J. Smith live on in our memories to this day — one century later.

Nothing I could write about the disaster hasn’t already been written and by much better writers than I. Still, this disaster is one which resonates with something deep inside my mind and fills me with dread and foreboding even here in my warm, dry, and safe office. In my mind’s eye, I can see, with little trouble, the chaotic terror washing over the decks of the doomed ship like the water which would carry her to her grave. Imagine what it had to be like in the lower decks where the Second Class and lower passengers were trapped and trampled in the mad rush toward the top of the ship. Think of the brave, doomed men of the boiler rooms who stayed at their posts shoveling coal into the boilers to keep the spark of the wireless dancing as long as possible.

Photo of the iceberg that sank Titanic taken by a crewman of RMS Carpathia as she collected survivors and bodies following the disaster.

Should this world stand long enough and the Almighty tarry in His return, we shall all die. That is a certainty which comforts some and terrorizes others, but it is a certainty nonetheless. Still it is one thing to be felled by a lightening strike, a car accident, or some dreadful disease, but how many of us are fated to watch helplessly — as the people aboard the doomed liner were — Death’s slow, inexorable approach? Could you stand to watch the water slowly, then not so slowly, rise up the deck as you held your child upon your shoulders in a vain effort to keep him from the water a second longer? Would you jump into the frigid, salty blackness and clutch Death to your bosom like a lover just to make an end?

The wreck of the Titanic is something which haunts my nightmares even though it occurred long before even my grandparents were born because nearly every race and social strata participated on the Titanic’s maiden voyage so it is a picture of the death of the world in miniature. The people aboard the liner were happy and looking ahead to a bright future one moment then marking the steady approach of Death the next. What if instead of an iceberg plowing into a ship it is an asteroid plowing into the Earth? Those on the ship had two hours to ponder . . . how long would we have?

It makes me think of the people trapped above the crash levels in the Twin Towers. That was another microcosm of total destruction. People who are going about their everyday lives all morning then without warning they are off to meet the One whom Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins bet their lives and souls is not there. Can you feel the bitter cold of the water? Can you feel the rush of the air sweeping by as you plunge from 110 stories up?

The bow of RMS Titanic as she sits at the bottom of the North Atlantic, slowly turning into powder like the dreams of those who perished aboard her.

The water isn’t the most terrifying aspect of that horrible night for me, however. The worst scenario my mind can imagine is to be one of those who likely made it alive 2.3 miles down. Of course people scoff at that idea. No one could have survived that descent could they? I remember when NASA went public with the revelation that the crew of the space shuttle Challenger actually survived the initial explosion and were alive for the seven minute plunge to the ocean where the force of impact killed them. What if someone or several someones were happily sealed inside one of the many watertight rooms aboard the ship? What if they made it to the bottom? How did they die in the inky blackness at the bottom of the ocean? Suffocation or starvation? It’s a horrible thought, but not impossible. The interior of the wreck has never been even halfway fully explored. When you are as claustrophobic and fearful of the dark as I am, such a possibility is too terrible to imagine, but not too awful to be ruled out.

In any event, the loss of 1,514 people in the black icy water of the North Atlantic 100 years ago is a tragedy almost too great to imagine, if for no other reason it was so completely avoidable at so many points, but none of that matters anymore. To this day, it is the 8th greatest loss of life in a non-military maritime disaster in recorded history. So when you think of the Titanic or, God forbid, go see the hideous 3-D adaptation of the already hideous 1997 James Cameron movie, remember the words to an old hymn and say a prayer for those await the day when the sea shall give up her dead.

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

A rare postscript

I feel this particular picture did not fit with the tone of the rest of this post, but I must include it in any discussion where that abominable 1997 movie might come up . . .

This highlighted frame capture shows the piece of flotsam CLEARLY has enough room for Rose AND Jack if only the selfish cow had possessed the common decency to SIT UP or SKOOCH OVER!

And I Alone Escaped to Tell Thee

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This has not been a week I shall look back on and recall fondly. Normally, I try to put a humorous face and spin on everything, but the last ten days have been anything but humorous. I’m posting this to assure everyone I am still alive and kicking, but I have been absolutely and completely overwhelmed by life or a reasonable facsimile thereof. To quote Cathy of the comic pages, “I can handle one day at a time, but recently, several days ganged up on me.”

To start matters off, my beloved Eastern Painted Turtle, Comet, died last Thursday. She was going on nine years old and I had raised her from a hatchling. One of Budge’s students brought her to school with a bit of egg still attached to her. She contracted some type of fungus which led to some other ailment and by the time I realized she needed a veterinarian, it was too late. Now I’ll carry the picture of her floating, eyes closed and skin cold as death with me like so much of the other baggage I’ve been lugging around for years. Maybe people will laugh at me for being so attached to a reptile, but raise anything and spend nine years caring for it then come tell me if I’m being silly.

Matters only worsened Monday morning. I got back from taking Budge to school and went into the backyard to let Beau and Jack out of the outbuilding. Beau had been acting very poorly for two days straight and the Sunday night before, he wouldn’t come out of the pouring rain, so in desperation, I locked him and his kennelmate, Jack, in the building for safety. When Beau came out the next morning, he staggered over to his favorite spot on the grass and lay down heavily. Rain was falling like a tall cow peeing on a flat rock so I went to get him up and over to his doghouse. When I patted him on the shoulder, he lifted his head and dropped it right back into the soaking grass. He couldn’t stand up anymore. Icy fear-daggers lanced into my heart as I realized that which I had greatly feared had come upon me. After 16 loyal and loving years, the Old Man — my best buddy in the world — was sick unto death.

I went into autopilot mode. I’d been preparing myself mentally and emotionally for this moment for six months. He’d been going down and I knew in my head it was only a matter of time. All that preparation didn’t account for squat when the time came, but I managed to scoop him up and lay him in the passenger seat of the Element. I barely remember the drive to Cedar Lake Animal Hospital. Dr. Melanie had just arrived and she and Misty, who was always Beau’s favorite technician, examined him and found his fever was off the chart. Melanie looked at me and sadly shook her head. I signed the euthanasia papers. At this point, I’d like to say I sat bravely by his side as he walked to the Rainbow Bridge, but, as much as I wanted to, I simply couldn’t summon the courage. I kissed him on that precious muzzle, now hoary and grey, and left him with the two people who had taken such good care of him for so long. At least I know he was with loved ones when he passed. I picked his ashes up Wednesday and placed them next to Thomas and Loki on my pet shelf.

I picked him up after visiting with my much loved psychologist who has played a big part in helping me keep my marbles all in the bag. She is tremendous and she’s the first therapist I have actually told the truth about stuff to. Mostly, I’ve been ordered by someone or another to see a therapist, so I developed the habit of just lying to them so they’d think I was fine and leave me the hell alone. Dr. Scott is different though. She’s been a huge help.

Now she’s leaving Greenville for Hilton Head.

Anyone out there have any idea how impossible it is to switch therapists after four years of work? No? It’s bloody, freaking hard. I don’t know at this stage if I’m even going to bother. It hardly seems worth it . . . but wait!! There’s more!!

What can possibly top the death of my oldest and dearest fuzzy baby? The birth of my niece, Chloe Aurora Lowe. We had all been delirious with excitement waiting on her for nine months, but when I got to Mama’s house to take Mama grocery shopping on Friday, the look on her face was anything but excitement. She said the baby had been born at five o’clock that morning.

The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around her throat and she wasn’t breathing.

Nurses immediately snatched her up and took her straight to NICU where she was revived and started breathing on her own, but those of us who are honest with ourselves, like me, know the damage has been done. Her precious little brain was starved of oxygen for at least five minutes by the most optimistic estimate and anyone with any rudimentary knowledge of biology knows what that means.

Unfortunately, her mental development may be a moot point. As I write this, her kidneys have refused to act to void any waste. Her body is poisoning itself and if something doesn’t give, she will not survive the night. To make matters worse, if that was indeed possible, she desperately needs a PIC line established in her, but none of her blood vessels have been able to withstand the pressure of the IV. Finally, about two hours ago, Mama called and said they had performed a “cut down” and surgically inserted a supply tube directly into her little subclavian artery. What happens next is firmly in God’s hands. Danielle, her mother, is being discharged tomorrow and we’ve all pretty much decided that leaving the hospital without her baby might be more than she can take, emotionally. As for precious Baby Chloe, none of us have been allowed to hold her and only Mama, Rob, Travis, and Danielle have even been allowed to touch her. Of all the tortures devised by man, devil, or demon, being made to watch your newborn child scream at the top of her lungs with pain, hunger, and fear and not being able to pick her up to comfort her must be the worst of all.

So, I feel a kinship with old Job on that day when every time he turned around, another sole surviving servant was arriving to bring news of yet another earth shattering tragedy. I only wish I could close this book and the troubles would cease.

But I can’t.

Remember my family and me when you say your prayers tonight, please. It’s all up to Someone with better medical skills than any doctor at this point.

Love y’all and I’m sorry this post isn’t funnier.

Of Tragedy and Old Friends

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I stopped by Kentucky Grilled Chicken (?!?!?) today for a three honey BBQ snacker snack at lunchtime. I was done with the tater wedges and halfway through my second snacker when an old friend showed up in the KFC (KGC . . . KGB . . . ???). Now when I say “old friend”, this chicka is quite possibly my second oldest friend in the world. She and I literally have known each other from right near the cradle. We went through twelve years of grade school and K5 together. I distinctly remember talking her out of playing with the toy kitchen set in Miss Coggins’ room so she would come play in the sandbox with me. Birthday parties, McDonald’s parties, swimming dates. We go way back.

For the purpose of this story, her name will be Nadia. First, I don’t want her real name plastered all over the Internet because she’s a private person and second, I didn’t go to school with anyone named Nadia at any time that I can remember, so people won’t be running to the old yearbooks (as if they cared) to see who I’m talking about.

Nadia was one of my first kindergarten crushes. I thought she was beautiful with china blue eyes and long snowy blond hair, but even more, she was cute and funny. She was a lot like me. Her parents were the first couple in my dinky little home town to get divorced after mine broke the ice. It wasn’t much of a loss for the family since her dad was, as Papa used to put it, “not worth the powder it would take to blow his brains out.” Still, not much ever seemed to get her down. She was the middle child of three, then the second oldest of four when her mother got a bit of a surprise when Nadia and I were beginning sixth grade. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only surprise Nadia’s family would get that year.

Nadia was the most graceful gymnast I knew in my short life. She was athletic all around — great runner, champion swimmer, etc. — but her true gift lay on the floor exercise platform. I still recall our sixth grade talent show when she did her floor routine and absolutely floored everyone else. Her dream was the Olympics. She had her sights set on Los Angeles and 1984 and none of us, young or old, doubted her ability or commitment. We joked in math class about how much tickets to LA would cost. Our closest airport wasn’t even equipped for that kind of trip then. Nadia had big dreams and we all dreamed with her. Somewhere boxed up I’ve got a wallet sized picture of her in her leotard with her rhythm hoop. She’s smiling that spotlight smile and looks for all the world like she was posing on the podium getting the gold medal.

If iPods had been around in 1982, I don’t doubt for a minute she’d have made LA. Nadia, her mother, her mother’s best friend, and Nadia’s three sisters, including the baby, were on their way home in a car driven by Nadia’s oldest sister, who had just gotten her permit. The cassette they were listening to reached the end and automatically ejected. It came out of the player and fell to the floor beneath the sister’s feet. When her sister glanced down to mark where it fell, the car was in the beginning of a curve and drifted into the path of a fully loaded gravel truck  from the local quarry.

The Highway Patrol statement said there were no skid marks visible from either vehicle. Neither driver had touched a brake pedal. The truck was stopped by climbing atop the car and sliding several hundred feet until both vehicles went into the ditch. The truck driver was physically unscathed and everyone, including Nadia, have always maintained there was nothing humanly possible he could have done to avoid the collision. In any event, I heard the accident drove him to the bottle. Whether that is true or not, I can’t say. You’ll hear anything in a small town.

What is a fact is Nadia’s Olympic dream ended in a tangle of sheet metal and diesel fuel. Her spine was severed right below her belly button. She would never walk again. Her mother, the friend, oldest sister, and the baby, who wasn’t in a car seat because she didn’t have to be in those days, all died at the scene. Nadia’s next sister, seated at impact between the friend and Nadia, walked away with a cut over her left eye that required five stitches.

I don’t know many well adjusted grown men and women who could have withstood a tragedy of that magnitude with all mental flags flying, but Nadia seemed to. I don’t pretend to know what nightmares have ridden roughshod through her dreams these last thirty years, but I know she took to her wheelchair like the proverbial duck to water. After some therapy, she was riding rings around her grandmother and grandfather’s home. She even came back to school and finished the year.

In those pre-Americans with Disabilities Act days, our beloved principal and several of the more “handy” fathers came to the school several days over the winter break and built ramps to every place they could imagine Nadia wanting to go. She was given a key to the faculty bathroom because it was the only restroom in the school large enough to accommodate her and her wheelchair. One of her trusted friends would always accompany her in case she fell making the transition from chair to commode and back. That’s how we did it back then. We took care of each other.

Nadia was the first handicapped person I knew up close and personal. She could have been the poster child for how to deal with the biggest poop sandwich I’ve ever seen handed to one person in one lifetime. She was, and still is, a survivor. She and I graduated the same night and I lost track of her for some time. Then I started running into her at local stores and such. She was still pretty as ever. In time’s due course, she married a very kind and decent man. He was with her today. They have four children and the oldest was graduating tonight, just as his mother and I did these twenty years gone.

So I told y’all Nadia’s story to tell you, and myself, this little tidbit — it could ALWAYS be worse. What’s more, when it GETS worse, it’s up to you how to handle it. If anyone in this world has ever had a right to end up hooked on drugs or completely depressed or suicidal, Nadia was that person. That wasn’t how she rolled, pun intended, though. One dream and most of her family had died, but the woman I saw today still had a head held high and her china blue eyes still sparkled. The snow blond hair had some grey streaks, but mine does as well and my life has been a cakewalk compared to Nadia’s. So don’t take anything for granted folks. Life moves at the speed of love and it moves by very fast. Nadia is moving right along with it. She’s been an inspiration to me for going on thirty years now. I hope her story inspires some of y’all as well.

So, love y’all bunches and now that summer’s here, when y’all come in from chasing fireflies, don’t forget to wash your feet! 🙂