Saturday, May 7, 2011

With Tom, Huck, and Peter Pan

This week I attended the worst possible event imaginable: I attended the funeral of an eleven year old boy. It truly does not matter whose son this was, for the loss of any young child is a tragedy for each of us. And this child was a particularly fine young man.
It was an incredible funeral. There may have been 800 people there; it was the largest funeral ever held in this small New Mexico town. I once attended the funeral of a former governor that wasn’t observed by half that many, but considering the relative value of almost any governor compared to a fine young man, that is not that surprising.

No parent should ever outlive a child; this is such a universal belief that I firmly believe almost any adult would sacrifice himself for almost any child. This sacrifice is hard-wired into our DNA: we must love our children more than ourselves, and that, unfortunately, is both a gift and a curse.

What an incredible heartbreak! The death of a fifth grade boy touches us the way the loss of no adult could since we all know and can appreciate the life of a child happy in the warmth of loving parents, secure in the promise of a wonderful future life-- but a promise that will never be fulfilled. Every parent eventually realizes that his child will probably not grow up to be president, but this usually happens later in life.  A child of eleven years old is too young, this child still lives in a world where all dreams can yet come true.

A boy who dies at such a young age is a child caught in the perennial innocence of youth. He will forever dwell in a world where Peter Pan and Huck Finn are the notable residents, and where Tom Sawyer is the mayor of a community that will never be touched by the cares, worries, and troubles of adults. A world of endless summer days of golden sunlight, of devoted puppies who share your bed, over stocked fishing holes, grass lawns without stickers, and where the circus has always just come to town, but it seems like Christmas will never come.

This is a world where your best friend (and this particular boy must have been best friend with the entire town) is your friend forever. Girls are starting to be interesting, but you are not really sure why. Your baseball team will surely win the pennant this year and every issue of your favorite comic book is better than the last. This is a world constantly improving; there is an endless supply of tomorrows, where each one is vastly better than yesterday, and will, somehow, be even better than today.

Unfortunately, this is not a world where the adults who knew such a special child can ever visit. We are stuck here in a present where it seems the winter will never end, where the cold feelings of loss penetrate our bones and leave us feeling empty and lost. The dull ache of our pain in this tragedy cannot be measured; it can be just barely endured.

But even as we try in vain to patch the enormous hole in our hearts, this boy is leaving the tree house with Peter Pan in order to float down the Mississippi with Tom and Huck.

This perfect world where special children live forever is created by the endless love of our memories.


  1. Very Moving. Thank you!

  2. That was truly beautiful...

  3. Beautifully written and so very true.

  4. You brought tears to both Brandon and I's eyes. You have been such a wonderful friend to us at this terrible time. We are lucky to have such great friends.