The week of April 14 – April 20 is marked historically with numerous American tragedies. I may be particularly tuned into that because of my family’s personal tragedy (April 20, 1986), memorialized that same week. The Virginia Tech shooting (April 16, 2007), the Oklahoma City federal building bombing (April 19, 1995), and the Columbine School shooting (April 20, 1999) came after ours. The Lincoln assassination (April 14, 1865), the sinking of the Titanic (April 15, 1912) and the Bay of Pigs Invasion (April 17, 1961) happened before I was born.
Many people view these as historical events. Well, I guess they are that. But I can’t look at each of them without thinking about the personal tragedies of so many individuals. The lives lost, families changed, futures impacted. In fact, I was pulling together my thoughts on the matter to put them to paper, just hours before the explosions at the Boston Marathon (April 15, 2013). I shared my thoughts, below, with some of my family at that time.
On April 20, 1986, my parents were involved in a multi-vehicle accident that took my father’s life and left my mother with critical and lifelong-enduring injuries. Strangers pulled my mom out of a burning car. An unknown woman sat with her in gravel and broken glass on the side of the freeway and held her hand while waiting for paramedics to arrive. People I never met, and will never be able to thank, took care of her at what was most certainly the lowest point in her life.
I have thought of these unnamed people many times over the years; have prayed for blessings for them and their families. They were everyday heroes – or as Fred Rogers called them “helpers.” And there are many more all around us. Some take tremendously brave action by leaping to aid others in the face of national tragedy or catastrophic circumstances. But just as impactful are the ones that help a child separated from her mom in a department store, buy Christmas gifts for a family down on their luck, or hold a hand and give comfort.
I’ve endeavored over the years to be a helper to strangers whenever I can. I try to pay it forward. Because thirty years later, I’m still grateful to people I don’t even know. Never underestimate the power of your kind gesture, large or small.
I am changed. I live in a different place, have had different jobs, and enjoy different friends than I would have if my Dad’s life had not been interrupted much too soon. Some of those differences I know absolutely; some are question marks. But I’m a better person. This I know. I try to take the positive from my most negative life experience.
In addition to my moments of reflection and respect for all the lives lost in the events mentioned above, I will also be celebrating… National Dolphin Day (April 14), National Auctioneer Day (third Saturday in April), and National Lima Bean Respect Day (April 20). These are all days which would amuse my dad and he would happily celebrate them if he were here. So I will do it for him and smile.