My 8-year-old is enrolled in a karate class, and has been for the past few years now. Yesterday was sort of a chilled out day due to awards night being held next week, so I decided to do my own thing for the 45-minutes he’d be practicing his kicks, punches and horse stance. I knew he wouldn’t miss me, considering he never really notices me watching him from outside the classroom anyway.
His karate class is held inside of an elementary school, and not in the best of neighborhoods. It’s not as though I fear for my life or anything, but a car full of men slowed down considerably as I started a light jog down the cracked streets heading North. And the weather wasn’t very cooperative, sprinkling down onto me with the threat of turning into something much more. The men drove on eventually and left me alone, yet the rain continued, winds gusting up all around me. I decided this must be a sign from God or something to just turn back the way I had come. I hadn’t even hit half a mile yet, when I saw something very familiar ahead of me. So familiar in fact, that I stopped running and trepidation filled me. I’d imagine that’s the feeling anyone might have when they see a cemetery looming ahead, and not just any cemetery, but one they had been to before.
I wasn’t sure what I should do. On the one hand, the rain kept falling, but it was lessening a bit. The easy thing would have been to turn around and head back to the school, but I don’t always do the easy things in life. I wanted to go and see his grave again, which I hadn’t done in many years. I was being pulled in his direction, and that’s when my feet started a light jog and clamored up the hill towards the entrance to the cemetery. It was so quiet, aside from the wind. Two people were paying their respects at a gravesite, watching me with interest and concern. Who goes running in a cemetery? To be honest, I had planned on seeing him later this month, on Memorial Day. My family would pay our respects to my friend Jill, and I wanted to stop and see him too, if I could only find him. As I said, it had been a very long time. I knew I wasn’t in the right spot when the headstones were listing out various individuals who had lived long lives. No, I needed to move upwards, and as the road curved to the left, I spotted a small area of tiny graves. My heart started to beat a little harder as I walked onto the grass and started to see new headstones I hadn’t seen before. When he had died, and I had gone to his funeral, none of these children had been here as of yet. I held my good friend’s hand as we cried our eyes out that incredibly cold, snowy January day, not feeling the cold or even acknowledging it’s existence, although I knew it was there. There was so much grief and pain.
I found him then, between two other headstones, his name prominently displayed as though 10 years hadn’t gone by as quickly as the blink of an eye does. It felt like only yesterday my friend had to have her emergency C-section, discovering she’d had placental abruption. There was no way to save her little boy, who in all actuality saved her life by preventing her from having severe internal bleeding. He took the brunt of that, and as she said to me so long ago after waking up from her anesthesia, “It’s God’s will.” She knew before I even opened my mouth to speak.
I bent down and slowly wiped away loose grass and debris from his name, not really sure what the proper protocol is when you pay your respects to someone you never really got to know. I held him only once after he had already passed on, yet his short life left such a profound impact on me. Looking around, there were so many other graves, one with teddy bears placed lovingly at the front of the headstone, yet the wind had knocked them down. I grabbed hold of them and sat them back up gently, brown and slightly damp from the rain.
By the time I got back to the school, I had only run a mile. My plans had been completely derailed, but I welcomed it. My heart held immense sorrow yet so much love and gratitude. My friend was still alive, and had three healthy children to tuck in at night . My son was busy earning his blue belt, inquisitive and beautiful. My toddler was currently at home giving Daddy a run for his money, full of life and sweetness. So much to be thankful for that I often take for granted, and the little child who did so much for so little reminded me of that. He will never, ever be forgotten.