I have a brother. His name is Hal. He is exactly 12 months and four days younger than me. We shared a room until I was ten years old. We also shared birthday cakes. Chocolate with chocolate icing. Momma would make one big sheet cake, and decorate half for Hal and half for me. (There was nothing better than licking chocolate icing off the back of those hard, royal icing decorations. . .the kind in the cellophane pack that you have to peel off the cardboard? You’d meticulously lick the icing, then go to town crunching on all the little letters and numbers.) I spent a large majority of our childhood bossing him around. I was, after all, older than him–and born with an innate bent toward bossiness. Really, for all accounts and purposes, we were twins separated by a year. There were times we were sworn enemies and times we were fast friends, but we ALWAYS had each others’ backs when push came to shove–and still do.
Obviously, Victoria has a younger brother. They are very nearly three years apart. Thad arrived just six weeks before Victoria turned three years old. The first words out of her mouth upon seeing him were, “He’s so cccccuuuuuttttteeee!!!!!! Can we keep him?” Yes, baby. We can keep him. And thankfully we had her to help us raise him. I’ve talked before about how she can get him to do pretty much anything. She is especially gifted at making him laugh so hard I fear for his safety. They are, at times, like an old married couple. And since they are young and in the middle of it and still get on each others’ nerves, they don’t know it yet, but they are best friends.
I also grew up in a smallish town. I went to church with a group of kids. There were some a little older and some a little younger, and a nice bunch of us that were the same age. I cannot say that our relationships were always rosy or pleasant, but there we were all together in the nursery and cradle roll and Sunday school and VBS and on the youth pew until I left for college. Our parents had grown up together–and in some instances, even our grandparents had grown up together, or at the very least been newlyweds together.
Anyway, one of this group was a girl named Missie. Missie had a younger brother named Max. At the time he seemed SO MUCH younger than us. . .and he was. About four years worth of younger, which is an eternity as children. I would go to Missie’s house sometimes to spend the night–or on a Sunday afternoon between morning service and evening service. I remember Max as a bundle of energy–a live wire–a bouncing ball of jumping and running and noise. He grew into a tall, strapping, buck of a man, married with a son of his own. Max and his 13 year old son and my brother shot guns together–pistol matches–accuracy.
I haven’t seen Missie since my kids were very small, but I have seen Max. He is what you would describe as a Good Guy. As in, “You know, that Max is a Good Guy–just a good, Good Guy.” He led singing at church and spent a lot of time with his family, and on Thursday afternoon, the plane he was in fell out of the sky just four miles short of its destination. He and the pilot and two other men who were on the plane with him all perished. They were coming home from a business trip.
Someone wrote on a condolence page, “Max, the world cannot afford to lose men like you.” And that is the truth. At Christmas when I was home, I was walking around doing my normal “hug as many as you can before church, and get the rest after” routine. On my “after” run, midway back, near where his mom and grandparents still sit (which is where my Granny and PawPaw used to sit), I ran into Max. We spent maybe twenty seconds just acknowledging each other–glad to see the others’ face. I had to reach up to “hug his neck.” He was as solid and strong and real a human being as anyone could find. And now he is gone from this earth and is in heaven. But I don’t want him to be in heaven. I want him to be here. He is a 40 year old man with a wife and son and family who need him. It is very, very sad. It is tragic beyond measure and our hearts are broken for the people he left behind.
I told my sister yesterday (during one of our three phone calls) that I feel useless all the way over here in Texas. She said, “Well, at least you have the excuse of being 7 hours away. We all feel useless too, and we’re right here in the same town.” At least they get to take over cake and paper goods and let his loved ones see their faces. My sister understood my frustration, and call today to give me Missie’s number. I called Missie this afternoon. We talked for just a few minutes as they had gotten a call to come to a meeting for the victims’ families. I told her it was good to hear her voice. I told her how sorry I was. I told her that there were no words.
But there are words. They are few and simple and the only ones that have any power. “God, please help them.”
On the night of Max’s death, his wife told my sister, “Please, tell everyone to pray for us and don’t stop praying.” I have not stopped. I fell asleep Thursday night praying. I dreamed all night long about the family. I woke up yesterday morning already praying. I pray now as I type and hear my son laughing hysterically over something funny his sister just said to him. I know most of you who read this are my friends. And I ask you to please pray for Max’s family–especially his wife and son. Then go call your own brother or sister–and tell them a few, simple words too.