So there he was, this eight-year old. towheaded boy, cautiously, silently, slowly trying to cross the scary bridge. Recent flooding rains had caused the normally docile creek to be turned into a raging torrent, seemingly ready to overflow the banks, coming close to reaching the top of the bridge. My great-grandmother, standing on her front porch, yelled at him to get back away from the bridge. (The adults were always terrified of children on the bridge when the water was rushing so violently.)
He hesitated and looked back, then turned around and kept going. She yelled at him another time, and he paused yet again, looked back, and swayed slightly before continuing to haltingly pick his way across the creaky, uneven boards that would sometimes lurch sideways or upwards as they were stepped on. She tried yelling at him once more, but by this time he had already conquered ninety percent of the monster that was the scary bridge, scampered onto the other side and made a mad dash for the gate on the opposite side of the alley way. That was when she realized that she had been yelling at the wrong child!
The bridge boy and my youngest brother are close to the same age, and back in the day were strikingly similar in looks. They were about the same size with the same coloring, and that light, bright, towhead, blonde hair. We are actually related in a distant-cousin kind of way. Bless his heart, he could not figure out why my great-grandmother was yelling at him. But I can just imagine that he was grinning all over himself as he scampered to the other side of the creek and the safety of his grandmother’s yard.
This young man on the bridge was visiting his grandmother that lived across the creek from where we lived. Though he lived in Kentucky, he and his family were frequent visitors to our little valley, especially during long weekends, holidays and summer vacations. As the creek was swollen from much rain, I am guesstimating that this particular bridge event was most likely in late spring or early summer, with the near-to overflowing banks caused by heavy rains or a flash flooding type situation.
Throughout his childhood years, he was a frequent visitor to our home. He was a great kid, and always a pleasure to have around. One thing he always wore was a smile on his face. It was almost certain that anytime he was visiting, there would be lots of activity, such as playing in the snow, tossing a football around during the annual Turkey-Day football game, playing card games, playing board games, playing in that self-same creek (at normal levels, of course), and exploring the mountain trails, streams and caves behind our house. But then again, a lot of times when he was visiting there was probably a gang of kids from the neighborhood just piled up in the living room, eating popcorn, watching Happy Days, the Six Million Dollar Man, or Starsky & Hutch; and on those scary, Saturday nights…. Chiller! (Which, I am sure made that return trip across the scary bridge even scarier!)
I believe the last time I saw him there in West Virginia was during the Christmas holiday in 1976. I think he would have been right at eleven years old then. It was in the summer of 1977 that we moved to Kentucky and then on to Tennessee in 1979, so we lost touch.
Then one spring evening, at a sendoff for our spring men’s Emmaus Walk, (which is a three day spiritual renewal weekend,) I heard them announce the name of one of the participants. I thought, “I know someone by that name.” I didn’t really think about it actually being him. Then when I glanced up to the front of the room, there it was, his mother’s face hovering right before my eyes! Oh my goodness! It was just like looking at a male version of his mom. He had a smile that was lighting up the room. Even though I had not seen him in over thirty years, I knew immediately that it was him. They were going out a side door to begin their “Walk to Emmaus.” I absolutely had to sneak over and steal a hug from him before he walked out the door.
I did get to catch up with him after the weekend was over. It was so great to reconnect and hear how he was doing. I got to meet his wife the next week, as she attended the women’s weekend. She is something special. If you can think of the kindest, most gentle, loving person ever, this is her! She is someone that draws you in. I think it is the circle of light that surrounds her. She and I were laughing this week. Apparently it was as big a deal for him to find me again as it was for me to find him! That made me smile.
Over the next year and a half or so, we were able to reconnect and I received the gift of a new friend in his wife. The three of us were able to serve together on Emmaus Walk weekends and get together at monthly gatherings. I may have missed out on a lot of his life, but we were making up for lost time and having fun serving Jesus in the process. These were fun, fun times, and he was always laughing and cutting up and having a good time, being the boy that I always remembered; and she was always there with this sweet, serene smile on her face.
As I finish up this post today, with the significant remembrance of this particular day flooding my mind and my emotions, it is the memory of the phone call that I received on this very day, eight years ago that flashes solemnly in my mind. The phone rang that Wednesday, and I saw the number that was calling, and it was their number. It was not unusual to get calls from those in our Emmaus community, as I was the keeper of our database of contact information for the group. I am sure I probably answered the phone with a big grin on my face in anticipation, because I knew it would be one of the two of them on the other end of the line, but most likely him.
The call was from her…
It was most certainly not the phone call that I expected. I could not understand what she was telling me at first because her words were sort of blurred as she was emotional and crying and trying to talk through the emotion and the tears. When I finally did understand what she was saying, I could not grasp the reality of it. I did not want to grasp the reality of it. That sweet, fun, smiling, boy had gone to perform a wedding that afternoon. On the way home, he was caught in a rain storm and his car hydroplaned into oncoming traffic. He was gone. Just like that.
I do not know that I was very much help to her that afternoon because I was just receiving what she had already been steam-rolled with. She wanted me to let our Emmaus family know. She needed some of the men that were his close friends to know. They needed to know. She needed them to know. It was almost like, if it was spread out enough, that some of the reality, the weight, would be eased. We all know that is not how it works in these situations though. I told her that I would take care of letting the team know. I would contact them and make sure they knew. She has told me since that this was a big relief for her, because there were so many people that needed to be told and she felt a burden lift after we talked, knowing I would make the call to the person that needed to know.
When I made the next phone call, the person I was talking to had pretty much the same reaction that I did. They did not want to hear what I was saying. They were confused at first. It had to be a mistake. Certainly what I was saying was not real; it could not be real. So, I managed, through the emotion and the tears to convince them that, indeed, it was all too real and that she needed us. She needed us quickly. She needed us as family. She was, of course, surrounded by family and old friends; but we needed her to know that she was also going to be surrounded by her new family, her Emmaus family.
It has been eight years. She says it is not as painful now as it was, but she thinks of him daily and imagines what he would think of their grand baby; how he would have loved to be there. The family that he had become part of in that last year and a half is still surrounding her. They have been there to help her navigate the overflowing streams and creeks that come with a tragedy such as this.
As difficult as it is to grasp, sometimes God allows our ‘creeks’ to be turned into raging torrents with heartaches that threaten to completely sweep us away… all with no warning. It is sort of like emotional flash floods that we would never be able to prepare for in the first place. God gives us places of refuge in these times. He will be with us each step of the way across that scary bridge and will never leave us until we get to the other side.
One of my favorite movies of all time is “Hope Floats.” There is a scene where Birdie Pruitt talks about how beginnings and endings can be scary but that the middle is the best part. I got to be a part of the beginning and the end. I did miss the middle but I have hope that the new beginning in eternity will not be scary and it will never end and it will certainly be the best part!
Barry… I love you buddy! Your smile and your amazing spirit will never be forgotten!
Sharon… I love you much! Thank you for allowing me to share this story.
“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee:” (Isaiah 43:2a – KJV)
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27 – KJV)