When the Good Die Young
On a recent Sunday I awoke to the news that two young men from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tennessee, lost their lives in a single car accident the prior evening. Colin Kilgore, a baseball player and teammate of my freshman son, and Christopher Kesterson, a lacrosse player, collided with a tree in the car they were in and died instantly. Both were accomplished student-athletes who had secured a spot at two great colleges, and I’m sure felt as if they had the world in the palm of their hands.
Almost 35 years to the day I lost one of my best friends our senior year of high school. The news of the CBHS boys dug up a cadre of emotions for me. I would have never imagined the events of February 17, 1980, would come rushing back with such intensity. I’d received a phone call from a buddy telling me the friend we left less than five hours earlier was gone. At first I thought it was a bad dream and hung up the phone. When it rang again seconds later, I knew it was no dream but a visit from the angel of death. It was the first time a contemporary, someone that I knew well, had died. We were too young to die. Only grandparents and old neighbors were allowed to die. We were still in high school, and graduation was in May. We had just ordered invitations.
And now, 35 years later, my son was about to experience a similar grief. At the moment he was spending the night with a friend, but I was able to obtain some details from other parents and through social media. When I called one baseball mom asking if they knew anything, she began to cry. “These could have been our boys, Paul,” she said, sobbing over the phone. She was right. My son had ridden home from visiting friends with a sophomore classmate just hours before, yet they were probably still sleeping. It wasn’t fair to these other parents that their sons weren’t sleeping either.
I called my son, waking him up to tell him the news. He didn’t know either of the boys well because they were seniors, and as everyone knows, seniors aren’t going to have much to do with a lowly freshman, but they were teammates and CBHS “brothers.”
“Daddy, I just saw him in the locker room on Friday,” said my son.
An email from the coach said there would be a team meeting for both baseball and lacrosse players. It was primarily for juniors and seniors – the boys who had spent the most time with their friends and knew them best – but everyone on the team was invited and my son decided to go and offer support.
Years earlier, within an hour after finding out my friend was gone, another friend picked me up about 6:00 a.m. that Sunday morning. My parents didn’t want me to go but I insisted. We knew some of the sheriff’s deputies, and they told us the location where the damaged truck had been towed. I had sat in that very truck the day before and now it was barely recognizable. The area where the cab once stood was no more. No one could have survived that wreck.
There were no cell phones then, so there would be no advance notice of our next stop. My friend had dated a junior girl and I had dated her younger sister. We spent lots of time at their house and fortunately for us, their parents liked us, welcoming us into their home on many weekend nights. I’ll never forget knocking on that door, waking everyone up and delivering such horrible news.
When my son and I arrived at his school, the parking lot was almost full. The baseball team met in a large conference room in the administrative building, and it was already packed with boys and girls when we arrived. Baseball players and coaches occupied the chairs and lined the walls, and parents, classmates and friends spilled out into the corridors.
There was a heavy weight of sadness in the room, but the coaches and boys had already begun sharing stories of their friend and teammate. Almost all were funny — things he did and said in the locker rooms and on the field.
“Did you know Colin didn’t like to take batting practice before games, Coach?” one player confessed. “Said he always hit better when he didn’t warm up but never wanted you to know.”
“No, I never knew that,” said the coach. “But I always had a feeling he was up to something whenever I turned my back.” Everyone laughed.
My son was standing near the entrance of the room and his teammate’s Mom entered the room and stood near him. At the conclusion of the meeting, it was announced that both the lacrosse and baseball teams would gather in the gym, but before anyone moved, Colin’s mom expressed her appreciation to everyone. I don’t recall her words because all I could think about was how composed she was and how much gratitude and love she expressed for those in attendance. She was amazing. She would have to be for the next few days.
When both of the teams gathered in the gym, the feeling was surreal. Girls were crying and hugging each other and many of the boys who may have never shown signs of emotion on the field were crying too. Even the parents of both boys were mingling with other parents and friends. Prayers were said – both to the group and in small gatherings all over the room, and the presence of God filled that gymnasium.
In the 35 years since my friend was taken, I still think back on why it happened to him and not me. Why am I blessed on a daily basis with two great kids and friends and family members who love and support me, and why did my friend never live to see the same?
Everyone will say their final goodbyes in the next couple of days. Emotions will come and go, and the next time a class meets, a practice starts or the first time they take the field for competition, their brothers will think of their friend and teammate who isn’t standing beside them.
Let us remember in the chaos of this life that our time is precious and although we hear it often, let’s live life to its fullest and take advantage of every breath God gives us.