If I could go back

Published 12:15 pm Friday, April 19, 2024

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I spent most of my teenage life involved in youth group. The group was close-knit, and in the end, we were all friends, no matter the arguments we had, the fights that were broken up, the couples who got together and broke up twice a month. The summers were long and secretive. The winters were dry and fun. 

It was all part of growing up. And now, standing back and looking at those short years, I can see the moments in my mind like pictures in a faded photo album, peeling at the edges. Captured in a still shot to be cradled forever in time. Always held in Father Time’s wrinkled fingers. 

Since those free-spirited teenage years, I can name three people in my youth group who are gone now but eternally remain in that photo album in my mind. 

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It was a drug overdose. A car crash. And one shot and killed. 

Over the weekend, I was waiting for my coffee at my local Starbucks when one of the kids from the youth group handed me my drink and said, “Did you hear what happened?”

Then he told me that one of the kids we went to youth group with was shot and killed the night before. My first thought: Say it’s not real. That this is just a rumor. Why do they keep leaving, one after one? 

I later learned that he was the victim of a dispute, sure enough, the day before.

I remember when that kid would come into the church service, tallest person in the room, and I never thought I’d be writing a column about that scene. My memories of him are few and far between––we were five years apart––but I remember having a conversation with him one night when I was babysitting at the church. It was centered around girls and someone he liked at the time. 

He was only 12 or 13. Now, at 20, he’s gone. 

Just like the boy in the car accident. Just like the girl who overdosed. It’s unbelievable to see the pictures of those people in an obituary. I always find myself staring at them in their photographed eyes for so long it almost burns. It’s almost so surreal I could physically feel it.  Those faces I once knew as children running through the halls of the church. 

If I could go back to the moments I had with those people, I’d look at the boy who was in the car accident and say, “Hey, I should’ve received your friendship better. I shouldn’t have ignored that last message you sent to me the July before you died. I’m sorry.” 

To the girl who overdosed, I’d catch her by the arm walking down the street that Halloween and say, “Hey, I forgive you for what happened that one summer. Please find the right people again.”

And to the victim of the shooting, I’d say, “This life is so short. I know we aren’t close friends, and I know I’m older than you, and you might not even remember my name right off hand. But don’t go to that apartment on that day in April. And if you don’t think better of it and you still go there, your family loves you. The church loves you. And when the shot is fired, someone is going to hold you when you take your last breath, and the reports will say you looked at your friend and smiled. It’ll all be okay when you close your eyes.”

It’s always the first thing you think about when someone dies––the last thing you said to them and what you wish those words would have been. 

I hope this column inspires kindness and love. 

Blessings, dearest readers.