Today in the grocery store, I shared a real conversation with one of the mothers I knew in the years that my eldest son was consumed for a love of tennis. I knew her son had been present at the accident when the two boys from South Eugene High School were swept into the ocean but I hadn’t heard about how the event had changed his life until today. Old friendships between mothers are re-kindled easily in the freezer aisle when we share real stories of the trials and tribulations of witnessing our kids’ struggles to make an independent life. She told me, “He isn’t the same since it happened, he used to be so outgoing and gregarious; now he stays much more to himself.”
She went on, “The only way we got through that time was by the kindness of all the people who offered so much at that time. It taught me about how good people really are….” I agreed and remembered again why I began the Positive Change Memorial Courtyard project in response to it. Being part of the memorials and community that emerged in the wake of the tragic death of those boys made me wonder, if there was a vehicle for people to keep being involved with the kids, would they? Building community has been harder to replicate than I initially imagined, and yet, we talked about the project and how it is teaching me how positivity manifests in so many unexpected ways. The courtyard is a learning lab filled with amazing kids who call me out, whenever my expectations lead me to feel disappointed, and challenge me to call it good right now.
Late last week, another similar tragedy was reported on the front page of the local paper. A family was out walking their dog on the coast in northern California when the dog, after giving chase to a stick was swallowed up by a huge wave. Without a second’s thought the teenage son went in to the frigid water after his dog. Moments later, the father went to save the son, followed by the mother trying to save them both. Meanwhile the sister, within moments, witnessed her entire family gone. Ironically and tragically, the dog was the only survivor who made it back to the beach. There was no thinking in the moments this tragedy unfolded, there was just the knee jerk reaction of love, which will not let you watch helplessly on the side lines of life. There is only love that forces us to risk all to save those we love.
I think of the sister often. How can she go home or ever make sense of the moment when everything ended and she was thrust into a new beginning? I hope there is a community that is encircling her and buoying her up the way our community came together a couple of years ago. I am grateful to be making this memorial garden and grateful that there will be a place where we can engrave bricks with the names of this courageously loving family.
Over and over again I learn that what we need most in this world is each other. The way that we have found each other throughout human history is by giving ourselves to create something of benefit to all. It’s how every great monument has ever been built, how every small village survives, and how we bounce back from tragedy. Sadly, it seems to continuously take tragedy to shake us awake out of our individualistic determination to make something of ourselves. It takes loss and grief and sadness for us to wake up and realize that the only thing we have ever had to hold onto and only for a minute, is each other. Check out our project and inspire somebody with it. Or better still start one of your own to build community and remember how to love.