On a rainy Sunday afternoon, more decades ago than I care to admit, my mother received a distraught phone call. It was Mrs. Camp, who lived in the town next to ours. Mrs. Camp had just witnessed a horrific accident involving a child.
I heard someone mention my friend Sally. What about her?
Though the story's too deep and wide to get into here, suffice it to say I remember the sky that day and the song that was blasting from my brother's bedroom as my mother took that phone call. I remember standing next to her, trying to piece together fragments of conversation as sirens wailed.
When my mother got off the phone, the two of us knelt down in the living room and prayed part of a Rosary. We weren't sure Sally was going to make it. Before bed, my mother took me on her lap and told me in the tenderest way possible that Sally had died.
My classmates and I—including Sally's nine-year-old brother—had just been dealt a loss far greater than our minds could contain or our vocabularies could express. It was Memorial Day weekend 1975.
Life went on, of course, and still does. But life was and is forever altered. Somehow accepting this makes life easier, not harder.
Today I'm no more enlightened as to why horrific things happen. I refuse to blame God or romanticize tragedy. But it would be the ultimate earthly tragedy to remember someone's death and forget to celebrate their life.
In that spirit, I smile as I pay tribute to Sally Ann, the straight-A kid whose classmates had just named her "Student of the Month." The friend I would see in the line at Confession and steal glances and giggles with the next morning at Mass. The friend who once cleaned out my fourth-grade desk and stood by dying laughing as I showed off the transformation to my mother—and pretended to take the credit. (My mother knew better.)
Today like many of us, I'll pay my respects to those who died defending our country. I'll also clean my desk a little and listen for children's laughter.
Who are you remembering today? As best we can, let's honor our loved ones by celebrating life.
"I take this moment now and hallow it with spirit.
I offer my soul's prayer in hopes that you can hear it."
– Seth Kahan, "Memorial Day poem"