You weren’t even three years old, but I was certain of it back then: You were extra-special, destined for greatness, designed with a unique God-given purpose. Maybe it was the way you were able to engage people at such a young age, the way you had genuine concern for others and a deep curiosity about the world around you.
I loved watching you watch the world.
You carried a stuffed bunny everywhere. He was your best friend. Bunny sat with you in grocery carts, long car rides and even in the front pew of the church on the day Scott and I were married. You served as ring-bearer, but slept through the whole service — cherub-boy and bunny both nestled on your Mema’s lap.
You lost that threadbare bunny a dozen times or more over the course of your childhood. Every time, you would double over with anguish. Your family would do anything to help you find that bunny. Anything. We scoured city parks and restaurants until Bunny was rescued from beneath a dirty merry-go-round or a vinyl-covered cafe booth.
We would have turned Earth inside-out to see that sweet smile stretch across your face.
You’re all grown up now — eighteen years old — but some things never change. I’d do anything to help you smile again. I wish it were as easy as looking for a lost stuffed bunny.
My heart feels heavy for you, my dear nephew. You’re a man now, but a man wrung dry. And maybe a part of you thinks you have to carry the whole weight on this tragedy on your shoulders. As I write, I think about our conversation the other day, and the questions you have. Most of them begin with one word: Why?
Almost three weeks ago, so much of life was upended on an Iowa highway. You were driving the car, which makes it all so hard for you. Your cousin was in the front seat next to you. Three good friends were in the back seat.
These have been dark days.
I’ve slept at the side of your cousin, who heals in a hospital bed. He’s awake now, healing every day, and he asks about you. Yesterday, he said these words: It’s easy to see the physical recovery of a person, but you can’t see the emotional pain. I know that he was thinking about you when he said those words. Most of your cuts and scrapes have healed, but you wear wounds on the inside that none of us can see.
If I could love away the pain, I would.
When you and I talk, I just sit and listen. We are both long on questions, short on answers. I beg God for an answer — just some small word that might bring you a bit of peace. I always fall short.
My meager efforts feel so very miniscule, but then again, maybe the best gift an aunt can give is her time and her prayers? And maybe it’s OK if we can’t find the right words to fill up the space between us?
If I could, I’d search a park or a restaurant or under a vinyl booth or even inside a whole ocean to find the thing that makes you smile again. But really, the answer lies within you. You carry very God in you, and I’m certain that’s why one of your first responses in that farmfield was this: prayer. The EMTs talk about how you were praying over every person when they arrived at the scene.
That is the first and best thing any one of us can ever do: pray.
You’re a man now, standing on the doorstep to your future. My prayer is that you can move forward in faith, grow in His grace, and know that you are never, ever alone.
And I still feel what I felt back when you were little: God has a very special plan for you. He is the God who makes a habit of redeeming the most painful parts of our stories. And even if my love can’t take away the pain, I’m going to love you anyway. And you are going to make it. You are.