“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Epictetus
My 13 year old, who lives-breathes-dreams-sleeps basketball (baseball is a close second), is out front, practicing his shots and moves.
After a 3 month ordeal in getting a replacement backboard for our basketball goal (that saga is best saved for another posting), AJ is back in business. He’s making up for lost time before basketball tryouts at his middle school.
On this occasion, one of the cooler days of late summer, I put aside my “to do” list. Instead, I pull up a lawn chair in the shade and watch.
Tall I am, but not blessed with the natural athletic abilities he has–I’ve found it much better to sit on the sidelines and cheer him on.
His lanky, increasingly-muscular frame moves gracefully as he dribbles and shoots. “Nothing but net” from practically every spot he shoots. Lay ups, hook shots, free throws, 3-pointers—the boy’s got game. And that’s just not the opinion of a loving mother; I grew up in a family where two uncles played Division 1 college ball (both on full scholarships). I know game when I see it.
A smile sneaks across my face as I watch him do his thing.
And then I glance at my watch.
It’s 5:17 p.m.
The smile remains, but the tears come.
My son is playing basketball in our front driveway alone.
If his dad were still alive, this would be the exact time his Toyota truck would be turning onto our cul-de-sac. The boys and I joke we recognized his motor sound. And instead of slowing down as he turned onto the street, he would punch the accelerator, getting that little silver truck into the garage as soon as possible so he could spend time with his two treasures, Andrew and Ben.
I’m sure I was a close second on his list, but they were more fun to play with.
He should be here.
He should be exiting his vehicle, grabbing the ball from his older son, and taking it to the hoop.
He should be giving him advice on blocking, shot technique, and zone defense.
It’s not fair.
This boy–who picked up a ball before he could crawl, whose first word after “dada” was “ball,” who got his first t-ball set up at age 1 1/2, his first basketball goal at age 2–needs his father. So does his younger brother, blessed with a set of talents very different but still amazing.
They don’t get him.
And as AJ continues the dribble, bob and weave, shoot routine, my tears continue to flow. He glances my direction and immediately comes to my side, asking what’s wrong.
Over the past 4 years our tears have come easily. We all 3 cry. Tears, for us, are healing. For awhile in public I tried to hide them, or explain them away when folks would notice.
We cry. We laugh. We sometimes do it simultaneously.
After he finishes up, I search for the photos seen on the left side of this collage. Mark helping AJ make his first basket on a regulation-sized goal. He was 20 months old. On the right, AJ as a 13 year old player.
He may look like he’s alone in these, but both he and I know better.
His dad, although not here in the physical sense, is right alongside him. He’s whispering advice, giving encouragement, and busting with pride as his mini-me conquers the court and his opponents.
We are called to rejoice for what we have instead of grieving the things we have not.
Life’s not fair. It’s a gigantic bitter pill our sons had to swallow at ages 8 & 9.
Grief has made them stronger, more resilient, more empathetic, and better people, in spite of their loss—one they will never recover from. It’s an integral part of their souls. It’s a big part of who they are, who they will be as adults.
I tell AJ I’d give a million dollars to have his daddy drive up in his truck and join in on the fun. I don’t have that kind of money, and even if I did, it wouldn’t bring him back.
Instead we have to rejoice for the time we had him.
Moving forward doesn’t mean moving on. It means living life to the fullest each day, despite great loss.
We’re getting pretty damn good at it.