Sunday, November 29, 2009

Pictures of Lilly

On occasion, when I get bogged down in the morass of the day-to-day I find it useful to think of those who deal with more in their day-to-day than do I. I am from the Tip O'Neill school of introspection - well kinda, sorta - in that I think only local. By that I mean I do not give much thought (he says (you hope and you would be disappointed) with some embarrassment) to the world at large. I do not spend time contemplating the inherent inequity of life for those who have been deposited into some forsaken place such as Darfur. No, instead I focus on those who I know and those whose lives have impacted my own and the lives of my family.

My two kids went to Catholic grammar school here 'NTSG. I am impressed by the strength of the connections they made there in that at least ten years after they finished their schooling there, each has remained friends with - and in regular contact with - quite a few of their childhood friends. Considering they were raised in a household where their old man went more than twenty years without having any idea what became of 98.6% of the people I attended high school with I find their commitment to keep those relationships alive quite remarkable. A tribute to not only my two kids but to all of their childhood friends who have contributed as much coal to keeping the home fires lit as have Rob and Suz.

About six months ago one of their childhood friends - Gabe - was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident. In a classic embodiment of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Gabe was hit at great force by another motorist who had lost control of his vehicle. Having known Gabe's folks a bit when we were all OLMV parents together I immediately empathized with how they must have felt upon hearing the news: no matter what we do as parents and no matter how well our children listen to us, we cannot keep them safe. It is a feeling equal parts infuriating and terrifying.

Gabe and Suz were classmates at OLMV and after their class graduated and he moved on to high school, I recruited Gabe and another of Suz's school chums, Chris B. (who shall forever be "Forrest" to me) to be volunteer assistant coaches on Rob's 7th and 8th grade boys' basketball team. We were awful and I am man enough to admit that our limitations were the fault of neither our volunteer assistants nor our players but - instead - principally the head coach's. And if you presume that I was the head coach, then please allow me to introduce myself for you/I are clearly strangers to one another.

It has pleased me greatly that throughout the years, even as their lives have followed different trajectories that both Suz and Rob have remained friends with Gabe. In addition to having an uncanny ability to nail 3-point shots on the basketball court, he has also proved to be quite a runner (Gabe is a runner as opposed to me who is merely one who runs) and a crackerjack musician. While I am notoriously poor for keeping track of such things, I believe that his band, which at one time was known as "Self Denial" is now known as "The New Black". I have in my CD collection a copy of their self-titled debut (before they were no longer in denial apparently) and it is quite good. If I had my druthers it would feature Gabe's guitar work more prominently than it does but then again no one has ever mistaken me for John Hammond.

Shortly before we all gathered in late June for Megan/Adam's wedding, Gabe sustained injuries that could fairly be described as life-altering in that accident I mentioned. As a result of it, his life was turned upside down. A lot of things that he most assuredly took for granted - because he is a human being and us humans tend to take for granted those things we can do whenever we want and wherever we want - he had taken away from him. A testament to the type of young man he is? I know not of a person, whether one of Gabe's peers from school or an old bag of dirt like me, who did not figuratively have the air sucked out of his/her lungs upon hearing the news. I am not a crier. I shed more than one tear though when Suz first told me of what had happened.

If life was indeed fair or a reasonable approximation thereof, then shitty things would not happen to great people. It is not. Thus not only do such things occur they occur without rhyme or reason. Someone, somewhere once said that the quality of a person's character is not measured by how many times they get knocked down but by how many time they pick themselves back up. By that calculation, Gabe's character is of immeasurable breadth and depth.

He has endured much thus far in the five months or so since he was injured. The key is that he has endured. In the deepest, darkest recesses of his mind and of his soul there has most certainly been a moment or two when he has wondered not only "why?" but "why bother?" And he has done what one does when one is a remarkable young man. He has kicked the hell out of those thoughts and has worked hard to recapture his life. To reclaim that which was taken from him by the fault of someone who looks nothing like him. The road to redemption is walked one step at a time. Gabe is a young man with a firmness of purpose. He has a distance to cover but he is well on his way.

The great American philosopher Robert Lilly once co-opted Mark Twain to share the observation that, "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." It is as true now as it was when Twain first wrote it. And though Twain died approximately seventy-five years before Gabe was born, it is as if the former wrote those words with the latter in mind.

And at present I know of no greater example of that axiom than young Gabe, whose spirit and whose determination not only fuels him through his day-to-day but also serves to motivate and to inspire some of us around him who are not as tough and as determined as he is. He is truly a remarkable young man.

-AK

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