May 31, 2005

Faded youth

I have written before about living in a small town. It’s a fun and interesting place to live. We love our small town not only because it is cozy, nestled against green, beautiful mountains….not only because of it’s Mayberry qualities of knowing your neighbors, of rejoicing as a town for people who have babies, get married or graduate from high school…but we love this town because it grieves together for those who are hurting. Since we’ve lived here the past 8 years, we have seen several deaths in the community, but none so full of grief and suffering as losing one of our young people.

We saw this community pull together after we had been here only 2 years. There is a train that runs through our town, it is a major train route between the west and the east, so there are a lot of trains that come right through our downtown area. The loud blasts the trains make as they get close to the crossings are simply lost on us because we are desensitized to them. People here are used to them and don’t think much about the trains, except that they are a minor nuisance when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere. One day a 17 year old girl from our high school either didn’t see the train coming (she was running late for work) or she might have tried to beat the train over the crossing. It really doesn’t matter which scenario it was….because she died, hit broadside by an iron locomotive going 45 miles an hour or more. There is now a totally new crossing signal at that intersection…it has flashing lights, huge gates that come down and loud bells that signal a train coming across. Everyone knew Karen because she was the flower delivery girl. If you ordered flowers for someone, her mother’s shop was the only place to get them in town, and Karen would come to your door with them. There was a massive funeral, the crowd flowed out into the parking lot of the church her family attended…..a crowd of all ages, but mostly of classmates, young people who were facing their own mortality, the cruel fact that we are fragile....and you never know when it's going to be your time to go.

In September of 2001, two days after the terrorist attack on New York City, we lost a dear friend, a young man named Brian, who attended our church. He took his own life. He thought his world was falling apart with the attacks on the U.S. and his girlfriend breaking up with him. The music he listened to planted the idea in his mind, deeply rooted itself there. He thought suicide was a way out of the pain, a valid escape, and a way to show his frustration and anger. The school had to call in counselors and pastors and anyone who would come to talk to the kids about their grief. We watched for signs of copycat plans for suicide in other kids in the community. The family is still dealing with their loss and the aftershocks of grief almost 4 years later. The funeral was at our church…we knew the whole community would be there, as well as almost the entire high school… a man who does it professionally put up televisions in the fellowship hall and out in the parking lot so that people could watch the funeral from a camera set up in the sanctuary. It was packed, the rows of chairs as well as the isles, fellowship hall and parking lot had family, friends, kids from the school and community leaders who come to support the family, as well as just to be with each other in a time of great pain. My husband gave a wonderful sermon....full of hope and the gospel message.

The people in this town really care about each other. It doesn't seem like it sometimes because, but when things like this happen, we all pull together and put down our differences. We all feel like we’re a part of each others’ lives somehow……it’s a strong connection.

This past Memorial Day weekend it happened again. We lost a beautiful young woman due to a stupid, reckless accident. It was the last day of school about 11am, school had just let out….graduation was that night. It is a tradition with some of the kids to ride around town in the back of pick up trucks, throwing water balloons and making noise, celebrating the end of school. One truck driver, a 19 year old girl, decided to race another car full of kids down a town street. As they started, Dulce, who was sitting in the back of the truck fell out, head first, then was run over by the back tires. There were a lot teenagers in the back of that truck… she did not survive long afterwards, and all these kids watched her die on the street, waiting helplessly for an ambulance. These kids are so shaken, so out of their minds from grief and from seeing all the traumatic events that night, that again counselors were brought in all afternoon on graduation day and are still available if anyone comes in or calls. One of these kids who was in the truck is a 15 year old girl who goes to our small church school, a good friend to one of my daughters. Life is so fragile….so temporary….so much more precious now to this group of kids. Some of them feel guilty for being alive…for being the ones who didn’t fall out. Pray for these kids and their families, especially the driver of the truck.

Dulce had just had her quinceanera, a traditional Mexican coming out party for a girl who turns 15. She is from a big family here in town, everyone knows someone who is related to her. Everyone is grieving….all the shops in town have donation buckets at their registers to help the family with expenses. A huge wave of grief came over me as I went into the grocery store on Monday afternoon. Dulce’s cousins and siblings were standing at the doors collecting for the funeral, a large poster of her pictures beside them…’s a good thing I only needed a couple of things, because I couldn’t think or breathe in there after seeing those kids with their sad eyes and the haunting picture of Dulce at her recent birthday celebration. I remember her only as the little 7 year old girl who used to come walk with my daughter to school in second grade. I didn’t even recognize the beautiful young woman in the picture. Still…..there’s a connection. And there is the fact that my daughter is the same age and could have been the one to recklessly sit on the edge of a pick up bed and fall out.

The funeral will be tomorrow at the Catholic church. I’m sure it will be packed out and extremely emotional. It will be a hard, sad day for our town.

Although these three stories sound very similar, they are actually very different in the scope of eternity. The first two, Karen and Brian, were believers. I know Karen was because of the testimony of several people who knew her well, one being her pastor. I know Brian was a believer because, even though he was misguided in the last couple of years of his life, I had talked to him about faith and God and he knew Jesus. He was rebellious, but he knew Who he was rebelling against and I could see that he was miserable doing it. The third teen though……she grew up in a family who I really don't know and by the way she was living, I doubt that she knew Jesus. I can't say for sure, because I don't know....only God knows. But it makes me cringe about our obligation to the kids and families in this community. Maybe she had never had the opportunity….maybe our Christian community had dropped the ball and never reached out to the group that she hung around with.....although I know one of her male cousins, who she hung around with, did become a Christian at winter youth camp a couple of years ago and has been a part of our youth group ever since then. So maybe people had reached out and she decided that she would have fun now while she was young and think about eternity later when she was older, when life got more serious. It is a sad fact that many teens feel this way, thinking they have all the time in the world to deal with God…..that the here and now is for friends, partying and self indulgence.

I don’t want these reminders of life’s fragility to go for naught. We need to take each opportunity to share God’s love, the hope we have in Jesus, and the knowledge that He has a purpose and a plan for us if we'll follow Him. It is the greatest news on earth….and, Christian brothers and sisters, WE are the torchbearers….let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16) Let's draw them to Him....

……remember, some may not have tomorrow.

No comments: