Wrestling

It’s been four days, and we’re still wrestling with the what-ifs, the why-me’s, the why-thems. We’re still piecing together what we saw. Still trying to understand. I’m still not sure if there are answers to all the why’s. And that’s ok. We can’t let our minds dwell on questions without answers. We shouldn’t dive into that dark well without a bottom. You can get lost in there.

Tatum asked about the news today on the way to school. We’re back home now, back to our routines and she’s curious. After the tragedy, she flew through a range of emotions; fear, anger, heartache, elation, a weird cocktail that we’re all sifting through. I don’t think she’s dealt with much guilt, and that’s good. Too many of us leave situations like Saturday wondering why them and not me and that question turns into guilt, but we shouldn’t feel guilty that we walked away when others didn’t. We shouldn’t blame ourselves for surviving the senseless act of another. We shouldn’t…but we do. We shouldn’t simply walk away and not look back, either. We need to learn how to embrace the emotions rather than bury them to see if they go away. Better to work it out before it goes too deep.

So Tatum asked about the news, she knows that’s part of my routine, too. “Was there any news about the crash this morning?”

“Not this morning, buddy. They didn’t have anything new to report.”

And then she asks a follow up. “What about the ones who died? Did they share anything about them?” And we enter into it. I let her know what I can. What I know. And that’s not a whole lot, yet. I tell her about the four that have died so far, and that they are concerned about one more. I let her know of the stories, how they are saying that one of those that died pushed a little girl out of the way. She was a hero. I tell her about all the heroes that day, about grandma Connie holding a little boy’s hands, consoling him until help could arrive. About Gpa lending a hand where he could. I tell her about the strangers in the crowd kneeling beside the hurt and wounded, holding hands, praying, helping. I tell her about one of the young men who dresses up as Pistol Pete getting that same little boy that grandma Connie consoled to the hospital in his truck.

“What about the girl in the car? Did she die, too?” And we enter into that. I let her know that she didn’t. That she walked away. I let her know that they are pretty sure she did it on purpose. That it wasn’t an accident, but like me, she can’t imagine why somebody would do something like that on purpose.

When I drop her off, I tell her to focus on the heroes that day and to not think too much about the girl in the car. She turns to me on the way out the door and says, “You want to know who my heroes were that day? My family.” And then she’s out, scampering down the sidewalk towards the gate. She’s on a mission to get to the book fair before school starts. She’s happy to be back at school. Elated. So am I.

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We walked away

When I first wrote this post yesterday, I didn’t imagine that it would be read by so many. Thank you for all the kind words and support. We are still processing emotionally, but physically we are well. There are still numerous people who need our prayers and our help. Please consider supporting the families who have lost loved ones and those who are still recovering. Click here for a list of places you can donate.

There are moments in your life where your mortality becomes intimately clear. Where this tenuous grip on life and those of your loved ones reveals just how fragile it is. Every breath is a gift, every moment walking a freedom that we all take for granted. And the more breaths, the more steps, the longer we walk this life between these moments the less real our mortality feels. Until another one comes along to wake us up. Life is not a dream. It is very real, and it is very fragile. We are not immortals roaming this earth.

Yesterday morning started off just like any other Homecoming at OSU. Maybe a little more special because this is Katy’s last homecoming at Stillwater before she graduates in December. But it was just another walk-around the night before, just another parade that morning that we would fight to get to the front of the crowd near Hastings on the corner of Hall of Fame and Main. We’ve done this before. We know our routines. Park up the road at one of the shops, hike down Hall of Fame a bit, stop in at Starbucks for a drink, find grandparents at the corner waiting for us. Hugs all around, watch the parade at the end of the route and make plans for the tailgate later. Just another parade on a beautiful morning in Stillwater.

Then it happens. One of those moments that strips the false veneer off of life and wakes you up. I heard a loud popping noise to the left, thought it was fireworks going off at the tail end of the parade. I turn my head, and my brain can’t process, not right away. I see a body flying in the air, only I think it’s a dummy at first. Surely it had to be a dummy. This was a parade. Just another homecoming parade. But why would they be launching fireworks and a dummy? Then I see the car, and I know all of this takes place in mere seconds, but in the moment and in my mind’s constant replay, it takes hours. Days. Lifetimes.

The car streaks past, a breath away from Tatum. From Ted, from Connie. Something knocked them out of the way. Perhaps the woman I saw flying through the air. Something pushed them back enough to miss what came. Then time caught back up to reality and I could hear sound again. I saw the woman who had flown through the air lying on her side. Blood. I saw another woman, gray shirt. Boots. Leg broken. More broken bodies, and I’m starting to move to help, to do something when I hear Daireth scream, “Tatum!” and I stop. My mind goes into protection mode. Find Tatum. I see her on the ground, confused, looking around for us, and I see something on her legs and then Megan scoops her up and begins to carry her away from the carnage. I see men rush to the car to lift it up. Someone’s under there, but I follow Megan. I need to check on Tatum. She’s hurting, we think it’s her leg or ankle at first. We carry her away.

In the parking lot at Hastings, only a couple of yards from the horrific scene, yet miles all the same, I hold Tatum close and check her wounds, only there are none. She’s ok. But not really. Not yet. Her mind’s still trying to comprehend. It was just another parade. “Why would someone do that? Why would they let that happen?” she cries into my shoulder, and I can’t answer. I can only hold her and reassure her that she’s ok. Nothing broken. Not physically, anyway, but I can’t tell her that either.

Katy catches up with us and I can see that she’s ok, but not really. What she has seen is playing over and over in her mind’s eye as well. And she can’t understand. I hold her close. That’s all I can do.

I watch as the survivors in the crowd rush to help the hurting. Men lifting a car. People kneeling to console the broken, to tend to the wounded. I find our family, bruised and a little overwhelmed. Struggling to process how close we were. Struggling to comprehend and to understand. I’ve heard so many people tell us God was watching over us, and I know that he was, but the sentiment behind those words rings hollow for me today. If He was watching over us, who was watching over them? And that paradox gets deep. Too deep to ponder. Not right now. Not in that moment.

Shortly after it all happened, when we regrouped at Ted and Connie’s tailgate, I began to comprehend something new. I played catch with Tatum. And I felt that it was borrowed time. I felt my mortality and hers very deeply. We shouldn’t be here, playing catch. It was that close. Too close. We shouldn’t be here, and yet we walked away. Every breath is a gift. Every waking moment. Every hug, every kiss, every joke, every laugh, every game of catch. All of it is a gift.