August 7, 2007

life lessons

Thanks to Erica's inspiration and the tragic bridge collapse last week, I've been thinking a lot about major events that have taken place during my life. Where was I when they happened, what do I remember, what has it meant to me?
This post is about monumental things that continue to have a great impact on me.

The first life-adjusting event in my life that I remember very clearly was the sudden death of my grandfather (the only grandfather I have ever known). As a freshman in high school, I was not familiar with the great grief and impact death brings with it. I remember coming home from hockey practice and my dad meeting me at the door, he hugged me while he told me that grandpa had died that morning. My gut reaction was this is not a funny joke. Until I realized that my dad was crying on my shoulder, not laughing. I often think about that moment and am sad that I thought my dad would make such a horrible joke. But I realize, it was really me not wanting to believe my grandpa was gone. In the days that followed, I managed a mostly trance-like state waiting for my mom, uncle, grandma and my grandpa's remains to be delivered back to Minnesota (my grandparents wintered in Florida, but were in Mississippi at the time of my grandpa's massive heart attack). Slowly, life began to feel more "normal." We still laugh and smile when we remember the friendly and fun-loving things my grandpa used to do...and I still miss him, greatly. I learned the strength and importance of friends and family, particularly during trying times.

Little did I know, that nearly 4 years later I would again be dealing with death, but in a much different way. I can remember almost every detail of January 19 & 20, 1999. On January 19th, I got a phone call from one of my closest friends, I couldn't understand a word she was saying - another friend of ours picked up the phone, the moment I heard his voice, I knew something was terribly wrong. A good friend , Mike, had been in a snow boarding accident, he was swept off the side of a mountain in an avalanche. Roughly an hour after I heard the news, I was expected to show up for our hockey game (it was senior night) and act as if nothing happened. I quickly went over to see my friends who had gathered together. I then ran to the hockey rink where I met my parents in the parking lot, I broke down crying when I told them the news. Once I made it inside the arena, I learned that many of my teammates had already heard, it was a very solemn night. Fortunately, we pulled together and played a good game, most of us with some memory of Mikey in our minds. The following day at school was very difficult. Only about half of my first hour English class knew of what happened. I remember staring at my desk as our teacher read the announcement our principal had written. Everyone in that room knew Mikey, we all sat in silence, long silence. The rest of the day drug on with group meetings in the counselors office, tears, hugs, and a gathering in remembrance. Those were some really difficult days. Days that made me realize that anyone can be taken from us, at any time. Days that made me realize I wasn't invincible. Days that made me greatful for who was in my life. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard came from my Psych teacher..."fake it until you can make it." I'm not advising that anyone bottle their feelings inside. What that advice means to me is take time to grieve and be sad, but it's ok to be happy and laugh, when the mood strikes you - and sometimes it takes effort to face a positive situation when you are hurting inside.

September 11, 2001 - we all have some memory of the events that followed 9/11. The gut-wrenching images that controlled the tv. Our inability to make cell phone calls. The great loss of life and lives changed forever. The fear of being attacked, what was happening and why. As sadness, disbelief, fear, and an overwhelming sense of unity filled the nation countless theories and thoughts ran through our minds. After everyone I loved was accounted for and safe, I was completely entranced by the news coverage. Having been at school in Duluth at the time, many people feared some sort of terrorist strike on the ports in Lake Superior, a major transportation hub. At about 5:00 pm, my roommate and I were snapped out of our trance-like tv-watching states when we heard an airplane engine over head. Never before had the sound of an airplane been so distinct in my ears. We grabbed each others hands and ran outside to see what was going on. All airplanes have been grounded – the only thing we kept saying. I don't think my heart beat for an entire minute. We were relieved and somewhat reassured when we finally saw the plane was an air force jet doing a fly-over. At some point after that, it hit me - our super-power nation built on freedom and strength was compromised. Would this nation ever really be safe again? Will we recover from such a gigantic devastation? Of course we continue to re-build, but we are a land with threat-levels and airport security checks now. When boarding an airplane, I think about what I will do if someone tries to hijack us. My sense of security has been weakend. I know that the US is still a powerhouse both militarily and financially, but these things do not make us invincible, they do not protect us from everything, they are not guaranteed. I know that my everyday life is still relatively unscathed. Most importantly, I know that nothing is for certain, life has no guarantees. So I try not to take things for granted, and to appreciate the people and gifts of my life.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007: 35W bridge collapse. This most recent life-acknowledging event will not be soon forgotten by Minnesotans. My roommate, Cindy, and I were driving down I-94 on our way to meet friends before the Twins game. When my cell phone rang at 6:15, I answered to my dad saying "it's so good to hear your voice." My response was "it's good to hear your voice too, Dad. What's going on?" That's when my heart sank into my stomach as my dad told me that a bridge on 35W had collapsed into the river very near to the bar I was headed to and our Wednesday night softball fields. I got off the phone, and quickly filled Cindy in, while I started dialing. Many of my friends would be on their way over that bridge shortly, or were already on/across it. I held my breath as the phone rang...luckily, with one phone call I was able to account for about 5 friends. Another quick couple of call-attempts finally accounted for the rest of our team that might have been on the bridge. A sigh of relief came over me in realization that my friends and family were ok. I was still entranced in great disbelief of the disaster - and would be for the next several days. The bar where Cindy & I met our friends was only about a block from the collapsed bridge. And even though we witnessed the destruction, emergency response, and aftermath of the collapse, it still seemed so unreal. I felt like I was living in a movie. Daily, I continue to read stories about the missing, the recovery efforts, and speculations of why the bridge collapsed. I am still barraged with photos of the horrific scene. And daily, I still think of how lucky I am, that none of my immediate loved ones were injured or harmed by the bridge's collapse. This is another reminder for me to appreciate the gifts of my life. One more reason I try not to take anything for granted, one more reason I try to take away the best from everything.

To all victims of these tragedies, and to all loved ones lost - may you know peace. To those of us who have survived - God bless you and may you grow with life's events.

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