At some point, my wife and I will make the decision to stop receiving a paper copy of the our local newspaper, the Richmond Times-Dispatch. That will be an economic decision, and a sad day. We both enjoy holding the newspaper in our hands.
Time flies, the world changes, I struggle to adapt.
Every day in the Times-Dispatch, I skim the Today In History section. I am amazed at the events that have occurred in my life time that I don’t remember.
For example, on May 17, 1987, the Associated Press reported 37 sailors aboard the U. S. Navy frigate the Stark were killed when an Iraqi warplane attacked the ship.
That date and the resulting attack is burned in the memories of family members who lost loved ones.
We all have memories. If our minds are working properly, they will automatically recall significant dates in our lives. Some of those dates are pleasant memories, and some are simply tragedies of the worst kind.
For a mother and father who are dear college friends, May 24 is a tragedy date.
Their youngest son was senselessly shot by a boat marina employee at a lake in Arizona in 2019.
There are still lots of unanswered questions about this tragedy.
A 500 page report about this shooting is in the hands of the district attorney for that part of Arizona. The person who fired the fatal shot at this point has not been charged. The district attorney must make that decision based upon the evidence and the laws in Arizona.
Senseless tragedies alter forever the lives of those who are left behind.
In conversations with our friends, my heart hurts. I have seen the tears of sadness in their eyes and heard the breaking of their words in their throats.
Their son left behind a beautiful wife who is a fully credentialed and trained emergency room doctor. And at the time of her husband’s shooting, she was expecting their first child.
Her husband, left behind a legacy of changed lives, including his own. He carved out a heart driven business that helped people—families and their children. He was very good at his craft. He had a great instructor— his own life.
I do not own any recordings by singer/songwriter Randy Newman. Mr. Newman has enjoyed quite a career as a songwriter and film scorer. He usually garners high praise for his work with lyrics that can be humorous, biting, thought-provoking, and at times beautiful and gentle.
His song “Wandering Boy” from his 2017 album Dark Matter on Nonesuch Records is one of those gentle, straight from the heart songs.
I don’t recall how I stumbled upon this song. But, it has stuck with me for many months now.
The song features a father describing the family’s youngest son. He calls him the “little caboose” and the “light of our life.”
One stanza focuses on a magical snapshot locked clearly in the father’s memory when his son jumped off a high board into a pool as a five year old.
That golden moment of laughter, no fears, and love is contrast with a real time question— “Where is my wandering boy tonight?”
In a following stanza, the father continues his careful reflection with statements of hope for his son. And one of those hopeful statements is this: “that a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye.”
“That a stranger’s eye is a friendly eye” is the quiet prayer of every parent for their children.
When I read those words, and hear Mr. Newman sing them, I automatically think of our friends, their loss, and the stranger who pulled the trigger.
In his book My Losing Season, author Pat Conroy, chronicles his senior year of playing college basketball at The Citadel.
Conroy describes his teammates after the long, disheartening practices during Christmas break: “ They looked like boys who had nothing left to give, as though someone had let the air out of their hearts.”
Parents who lose a child to a senseless tragedy have had the air let out of their hearts.
Try as they might, those hearts will never be fully inflated again.
And that is part of the tragedy too.
Long after I’m gone, maybe someday in the future there will still be a newspaper around with a Today In History section.
And just maybe there will be one day when the summary states: America woke up. Courageous hearts bring an end to senseless tragedies related to handgun violence.
I pray that day will happen.
Our deflated hearts need it.