It’s been kind of a sad day in my city, friends. I know I am not the only one who woke up to the news that, in a normal residential neighbourhood on the south end of town, a 13 year old boy died in a skateboarding accident yesterday. No one did anything wrong. He was wearing a helmet, and wearing it properly. The hill was steep, he got going too fast, and had a catastrophic collision with a fence. As I understand it, he died before the paramedics arrived.
I did not know this boy. To the best of my knowledge, I do not know anyone who knew this boy. It is not like me to get emotional over a crisis that is 100% not mine to claim. But all day long, my eyes have filled (and occasionally overflowed) when I thought about this one detail: he was out skateboarding with his friends. A gaggle of 12 and 13 year old boys, wearing their elbow pads and cargo shorts and Airwalks , out to enjoy a magically beautiful last-day-before-school-starts, ended up watching their friend die on a sidewalk. They had to watch him die.
I don’t know if you know many 12 year old boys. I’ve known a lot of them in my career, thanks to summer camps and teen leadership and teen nights at rec centres. They are funny creatures: still physically little boys, but full of the swagger and smirks and smartassery that they think will make them seem big. They’re starting to notice girls, but still playing with Legos in their rooms. They have a collectively big, loud, spectacularly funny, sense of humour. There is something about them that is so so big, and so so little, at the same time. More than any other age group, in either gender, 12 year old boys seem to live in a strange and magical Neverland. If you recall from Peter Pan, Neverland is exciting, beautiful, but not without its hazards and risks.
They had to watch him die.
I do not know these boys. I hope they have good mummies and daddies who will let them be little and hold them tight when the nightmares come. Because you know the nightmares will come.
I hope their friendships with one another are the deep, raw, profoundly touching friendships that boys and men can (but do not always do) have, and not the ones based only on bravado and competition.
I hope they can hold one other through this – if not physically, than at least emotionally.
I hope that the adults who love them will help them love each other.
Those little boys had their first day of school today. Today. If you are a teacher, you know: by 7pm the night before the first day of school, the lists are made. The names are written on books, baskets, cubbies, lockers, hooks. They had to face a classroom where their friend’s name was already written. He had a chair, a locker, a textbook. At least, I assume his name was written, because what is the alternative? To take it down, cross it out, leave an empty space? Which is worse, a reminder or a gap?
I hope that they have good teachers, who will help knit their school life back together. I hope their teachers will help them heal around their grief rather than over it. The holes left by lost loved ones don’t ever really close, but with time and love, the edges can become smoother, less raw and splintery.
I don’t know if you pray, friends. But if you do, please wrap these little boys in your heart and raise them up to whatever you believe in. Pray for strength and wisdom for their families and teachers. Pray for their school and the empty chair where their friend should be.
Pray that their nightmares will eventually be replaced with happy dreams of a warm summer day with their friend, the night before the first day of school.