The wind bounced the bright red poinsettia across the graveyard. It ricocheted off of gray headstones as if it were a pinball in a 1970’s arcade machine. This Christmas plant was gradually making its own way over to the grieving man.
Matt sat there on the cold and hard concrete bench just staring at his buddy’s headstone and crying. Why? Why take him, his sweet wife and their unborn baby? Why not take the sheriff that had done untold things to inmates behind bars? Or the woman in the green car that sold herself at the courthouse? Why did they get to stay around longer but remove the guy that is wholesome, never hurt anyone and has the heart of a saint? Why did Richie, Amy and the baby have to die?
And while we’re questioning things, why did the man that killed them, a previously convicted drunk driver, get to survive the crash that HE caused because he was high… again?
It was all very hard for Matt to get his head wrapped around. Just a couple of weeks before, Matt had spoken to Richie on the phone about coming help him with a tractor. Both of these guys were excited because life had been busy and kept them moving in different directions but now they were settling with their respective families and would be able to spend more time and laugh and hang out like they used to right out of high school; make some new memories. Laugh about the old times and look forward to the new times with his sweet wife and new baby. There would only be a few months between the ages of Richie’s forthcoming baby and Matt’s newborn son. Their wives were similar. Lots of things were planned. It was all going to be fun again.
But the phone rang at 9:30 on a Saturday night. That’s never a good time for a home phone to ring. After Matt picked up the phone, a female voice from his past re-introduced herself for clarity. She was the high school girlfriend of Richie. Her next words he still hears in his ears today; ‘Have you heard what happened to Richie?’.
After he hung up the phone, and collected himself, he needed to talk to someone. It was too much. His wife was asleep, he didn’t want to bother her. But this was incredible. He needed to sound it out to someone, to say it out loud so that it’d make more sense in his mind. Who to call?
For one nanosecond, he had the solution; he’d call Rich, he’d listen. It was an amazing story to share….and then he realized he’d never call Richie again.
It was not a dream and it was very real now.
The next time that Matt saw him, his friend was in a casket. This would also be the last time that Matt saw Richie. His clothes were flat and neat as they usually were with him. Richie always fixed up well. Matt was always jealous of his buddy’s ability to stay in shape. Richie had no sense of taste or smell. While Matt would eat whatever appeared in front of his face, Richie would eat healthy because, well, why not? He couldn’t taste anything anyway. So Richie felt he might as well try to be healthy.
That funeral, Matt will tell you today, was the hardest thing that he’d ever done.
Later after the funeral, he stopped at Richie’s house because he saw cars out front. And, he wanted to just go in one more time. It was an odd feeling. His grandfather had raised Richie and Matt had spent time in this house with Richie when they weren’t as adultish and responsible. Matt stood there and things were all just like normal. The clothes that he’d normally see him in were hung in the closet. White and neatly hung, his karate gee was in there ready for his next dojo visit. Richie’s brother who was in the home said if you see something that you’d like, I think Richie would be good with it if you had it. Matt asked the brother about a pocket knife that Richie always had. He pulled out the Case knife and asked ‘this one?’. Matt said yes and the brother handed him the knife and said Richie had it in his pocket when he was killed. Matt displays that knife now as one of his greatest treasures.
That day, as he sat on the cemetery bench he cried and rattled words at the large looming black granite memorial Matt looked at the oval picture of Richie and Amy in the headstone. It was centered and displayed like it was a jewel. Actually, their picture was a jewel.
As he talked and muttered and sat at the graveside, the crying got less. He was able to talk to a rock and say things he’d never said before and it felt good, cathartic. Matt speculated that he had cried out all of his confusion and anger and sadness.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the poinsettia continued its rolling and tumbly red and green journey. Like a small tumbleweed, still driven by the wind through the graveyard, it rolled on itself. It seemed as though it were driving itself around. Matt stopped his rambly talking and focused on the poinsettia. Bounce by bounce, as sure as the day is long, the fake plant was rolling closer to him.
After several more strategic moves, the beautiful Christmas poinsettia rolled to a rest at Matt’s shoe.
Out of all of the hundreds of tombstones and various setting places in that particular graveyard, what are the chances that it would have bounced around and ended up at his feet?
Matt bent down and picked up his new gift and a tear rolled off his nose and landed on the ground. He turned and looked out over the graveyard and imagined all of the tears that have saturated this ground around him. Surely tears of sadness, but also tears of joy.
Tears of joy that these people’s lives meant something to someone.
Matt wiped his face, got his composure back and decided it was time to go back home to his wife and kids. It was time to go back to what is today and not yesterday. It was time to be thankful. It was time to let yesterday go, be thankful and look forward to tomorrow.
He took his plasticized red and green gift and started towards his truck. Before he left he stopped and laid his hand on the tombstone and looked at the picture of his buddy and his wife, smiling and beautiful and said his goodbye the best way he could muster;
‘So, well, thanks for the present bud. I’ll miss you and all of our plans that we had. Really bad. We were gonna have so much fun again; like ole time. But, by gosh, I can say something that a lot of people in this world can’t say; I can say that
YOU were MY friend.
I feel sorry for those that never knew what a great man that you were. I guess that I’m one of the lucky ones because I knew you. I’m thankful for that privilege. And I don’t think we actually ever said it out loud..but I’m pretty durn sure that you knew that I loved you.’
After a pat on the tombstone, eyes dried, thoughts cleared and Matt was ready to drive home. On that journey back to a loving wife and wonderful children in his life, Matt would often glance over at the poinsettias riding gunshot in the passenger seat and smile.
The drive home was nice and had a resolute and complete feeling about it. Sense had been made out of tragedy. The pain had been somewhat relieved. Life seemed brighter because it was revealed that we all have a purpose to other people. And we should embrace those people while we have them because, in the end,
we are all gifts to one another;
each one of us is a gift to be thankful for in our brief and blessed lives.
That’s the best that I can tell about it,
Happy Thanksgiving 2017