My best friend's name was David. His picture was on the front page of the newspaper. The newspaper said, "David, Father Die in Boating Accident."
Forgive me for wishing such a morbid thing, but that's what I thought.
...But there was no misunderstanding. David was dead.
I cried and cried. How could that possibly have happened? I just saw him the day before and we talked and had fun. We always had fun. David was my very best friend.
I think David was everyone's best friend because he was such a nice guy.
When I heard the news, and realized it wasn't a mistake, I cried all day. I desperately wanted to know how it happened and why it happened. I wanted to know the exact details. I called my friends and, a few days later, they had a school meeting for classmates and explained to us about the accident.
But I still wasn't satisfied with the details. Besides how and what, I wanted to know "why"? Why did god allow this to happen to my best friend? Why did god allow this to happen to such a good person?
After all the questions I asked and all the details I found, I found out that they were fishing in the Lake of the Woods. The boat was overloaded and slipped under water and that the dad had tried to save David but the water was too cold and they both drowned.
That's how it happened. That still didn't answer the question for me as to why it happened.
I was upset. "Why did god allow this to happen?" "Why does god allow bad things to happen to good people?"
David was 7-years-old and he was boating and fishing with his dad in a lake in Minnesota. The photo of him on the front page of the newspaper was the class photo they took of him from our second grade class. I recognized it immediately.
That was 47 years ago. In 1964.
What a waste. He was a handsome kid. I think I was jealous of him because I thought he was more handsome than me. I wonder what he would have become had he lived?
I have thought about David off and on over these past decades. Yesterday, memories of David suddenly came back to me like a shot to the head.
My own seven-year-old son was off to a friend's house to play with some other of his friends. I was sleeping on the sofa in the living room when my wife returned from the friend's house and she was very flustered. She woke me up. Her face was all red and she seemed like she was about to cry.
I was still half asleep. She started rambling on about something and it was difficult to follow what she wanted to say. It was concerning one of the boys who was supposed to come and play with my son and the others but couldn't make it that day. When my son's friend's mom had called that boy's father to ask about his absence, the father had said something like "He can't come to play as he is, 'no more.'"
He is "no more?"
My son's friend's mom is not a native English speaker so when my son (and her son) heard this "no more" they were sure she merely misunderstood and laughed about it. Why not? They were just playing with him at school yesterday and kicking the soccer ball around together.
This boy was happy as can be and as fit as a fiddle and had the whole world and his entire life in front of him... He was one of the top students in class. He was one of my son's best friends; he was everyone's best friend. He couldn't be "no more." That couldn't happen.
My son goes to a school with a large international enrollment. There are children at that school who come from all over the world. Some of their parents do not speak English well so sometimes there are miscommunications. My wife told me about this conversation and asked me to confirm if, "...he is, 'no more'" means what we think it means.
I called the boy's house, there was no answer. Then, against my better judgement, and against common courtesy, I called a cell phone number that is listed on the class schedule given to parents to be used in cases of emergency. I talked to the father.
I knew immediately from the tone of his voice what the meaning of "No more" was. It was exactly what you or I would fear it meant.
The poor boy had died the night before. I said, "I'm sorry" and "God bless you all" and hung up the phone.
I thought immediately of my friend David from so many years ago. Here he was visiting me again.
I also immediately thought of what I was going to tell my son and his other seven year old friends. Like I said, they didn't believe it. Why should they? It is unbelievable.
How did this wonderful little boy die? We don't know yet. We will know how someday soon, I reckon. But we will never know "why."
Maybe the "why" is for each of us to decide for ourselves. I'm not sure.
I went to my son's friend's house to report the news. When the mother saw my face, she knew the news. I asked that she sit down and the kids playing to sit down also. I didn't beat around the bush. I told them the truth.
There was stone silence.
I'm not a priest, minister or man of the cloth so I didn't know what to say, but everyone was looking at me expectantly so I knew I had to say something. I spoke,
"I'm sure you will find out at school next week what happened to your friend. Now, I don't know. But, even when we find out what happened, it will always be difficult to understand why it happened....
When I was a little boy, I had a similar experience; my best friend drowned in a lake. I was so sad. I found out later how he died, but I never found out why. That's been many years ago and I still don't know why....
...All you can do now is to pray that he is happy and in a safe, warm place. And you must thank god for giving you the time you had to spend with this wonderful friend. Of course, you are sad and will miss him, but always thank god for the time you had and shared with your wonderful friend.... he will always be with you in your hearts...
Also remember that life is very short and we have to be very careful everyday. Accidents happen and, even though I am happy and healthy today, I could be hit by a car and killed or put in the hospital tomorrow, so we must be very careful when crossing streets or when walking near cars. It's always the car you don't see that is the one that hits you....
Pray for your friend and his family and always appreciate your friends that you have now. Give them a hug; give your parents a hug and thank god that you have such good friends and a mother and father who loves you very much."
I stuttered and stopped... I looked at their faces and they seemed to be thinking, "What is he talking about?"
I wanted to say, and should have said, something profound but I couldn't. I wanted to say something that would have made it all alright and set things straight. But I couldn't. What I said was lame. It was the minimum that had to be said, I suppose.
Still silent, the kids all stared at me, eyes wide open and expressionless. The silence filled the room.
I sighed, paused and awkwardly looked at the floor. I didn't know what to do or say. I lightly slapped both hands on my knees and stood up. I meekly told the mother that I'd be back in a few hours to pick up my son as the kids held hands.
The kids were sad but they weren't crying. I think they still found it unbelievable that their friend could actually be gone so it hasn't sunk in what exactly has happened.
It may not sink in for 40 or 50 years. It didn't for me. Even then, as with me, they might know how, but they will probably never know exactly, "why"?
Come to think of it, is there really ever a reason "why"?
There are lessons, I suppose. The lesson for me is that bad things do happen to good people. That can't be stopped. The only thing we can do is to try to learn something from it that can help the survivors to lead happier lives and become better people.
Later on when my son comes home, I'm going to hug him and try to explain the saying my good friend Ken always lives by. Ken says,
"Dream as if you will live forever. Live as if you will die tomorrow."
I hope the lesson of David and my son's friend helps my own son and his friends. I also hope it helps others as it has helped me, to become, if even a little bit, a better person (I hope). It has taken me nearly 50 years to write down this tribute to my dear friend David. Now, his death taught me a lesson that I can teach my son.
Remember to hug your kids today and tell them that you love them and that they are beautiful. And, of course, teach them to dream and to live each day to the fullest and to appreciate all the wonderful things this earth and god has given us.
They say that tomorrow never comes, but tomorrow, I think, tomorrow often comes much too quickly.