When I was in high school, two young men who were older classmen were killed while driving through a railroad crossing. Paul Opheim and Steve Shannon. They had been friends of my brother’s, and, if memory serves, there was the outside chance my brother might have been riding in that same car had it not been for the interest of a young woman.
The heartbreak our high school experienced was unmatched, in that none of our friends had experienced loss before this event. We had grandparents that had died during the course of our years growing up. But somehow, their actual dying was as far removed as a third cousin. Even in my own family, my siblings and I sensed the death of my mother’s first born, as we often marked his birthday and frequented his gravesite. But we did not carry the grief that my mother and father had to bear, only the imagined loss of elder brother.
When Paul and Steve were killed that fateful day, the young men and women of our high school had to learn how to mourn in community. St. Joseph’s church held a Mass, which my brother and parents attended. I still had to go to school. I don’t know why. My girlfriends and I had been close to my brother’s class, such that any one of those boys was considered an older brother(and dating prospect) to us. But we mourned in our own way, drinking beer, sitting at Andy’s Dad’s beach house, wondering how families and friends would move forward from that day on.
Fast forward twenty years. Today, I attended a memorial service for a young man, a senior schoolmate to my freshman. A senior at Moeller, he was struck by a car and killed. He would have been 18 tomorrow, falling short by four days of his 18th birthday.
How many times had parents around the world muttered to themselves, “That kid’ll be lucky if he makes it to his 18th birthday,” when their sons didn’t pick up their room or turn in homework on time, or when they danced to the beat of their hormones and not their brains. Tragically, this young man was simply on a skateboard assuredly doing something he enjoyed.
It is in how a community mourns that we understand how a community lives. Hundreds of young men of Moeller dressed in shirt and tie, seniors in suit coat, streamed into the auditorium, prayed and sang. When the priest invited the students to pray the “Our Father”, not one hesitated to grab the other’s hand to hold in prayer.
In that moment, I felt my own gratitude – that my son had elected to come here to school, in a setting where grief was as welcome as Friday Night Football and that I too could mourn in community for the families in this tragedy, feeling again the loss from my high school years, and the ones that have been strung together since.
While the boys will rise to the challenge of this tragedy, this is perhaps their first experience with grief so close at hand. Though the students are often nicknamed “Men of Moeller”, many wore ties that touched below the belt and shirts with sleeve cuffs turned up a few times. Their youthful faces and pants that sagged in the leg were a reminder that they will learn to grieve here long before they grow. It is in this that they will need our prayers.
For Josh. 09/13/2010