“This I Believe” essay for NPR
Have I told you before about the day my two boys became men? The phone call came at around 7:00 on a June morning over 6 years ago. Their childhood friend James had died in a car wreck late the night before.
Before I could even get my bearings, Marcos and David were carefully ironing clean tee-shirts. That looked strange so I asked them what they were doing and they said they were going to go to James’s home to pay their respects to his family. That’s how they said it – “pay our respects.” I don’t know how they knew to do that. I hadn’t even had time to think of suggesting it.
They went and stayed near James’s distraught family most of that day and agreed – along with other boys from that cul-de-sac in the old neighborhood – to be pall-bearers for James. The same boys who had played so hard together that, for years, our yard was mostly packed dirt.
I remember they had to hustle – borrowing clothes suitable for pall-bearer duty. Socks, shoes, belt, tie, shirt, a suit. “Do I look OK mom?” Some of the kids refused to attend the funeral because they only wanted to “remember James the way he was.” But James still needed some steadfast friends to gather around him one last time and my boys were among the ones who stood by him. They helped carry him home.
As I watched them in the church and later at the cemetery, I wasn’t so much proud of them as I was in awe of them all and humbled by their strength and their evident love for their fallen friend. They moved with instinctive grace and dignity, solemnly performing a duty they’d had no prior knowledge of or training for, a duty that many adults never have to perform in a lifetime. And though they did the work of men, that day I watched children bury one of their own.
After the funeral, many of the kids gravitated to the tree where the accident had occurred. The grass was ripped and torn and the tree was gouged where the car had slammed into it. We nailed tiny silver milagros to the tattered bark – a heart and an angel. And we poked a blue marble and a guitar pick down into a knothole in the tree. Other people brought things too and left them there – flowers, farewell notes, poems, toys, a whirligig. Stuff to say goodbye with. Stuff to try and ease the impossible pain of loss.
I believe absolutely in the strength, grace, and goodness of the next generation.
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