No words can explain profound loss

Editor’s note: Randy Krzmarzick of Sleepy Eye writes a regular column for The Journal’s editorial page. This week his column focuses on the tragic accident that claimed the lives of four young men in Sleepy Eye last Friday.

By Randy Krzmarzick

When I sit down to write, I think a lot about choosing the right words. This time I will fail. There are no words that work.

The accident Friday night cut through my town deeply. It is a small town. There aren’t that many of us; there are even fewer young of us. And when the young are taken swiftly and awfully, it echoes profoundly.

We try to use words, but non-words work better: hugs, hand clasps, shoulder grips, sometimes just leaning on each other. When I found out Saturday morning, I went to tell Pam. It took me a while to get it out, and then we just held each other crying. I don’t know how long; time stops.

When I was 18, my 16-year-old brother died after a long battle with a disease. I remember doing chores with my dad a couple hours after his death. I don’t think we were talking. Then he began to cry, the first time I ever saw my father cry. I was 18 and awkward and didn’t know what to do.

Now I am a parent, and his tears make perfect sense. I wish I could go back to that moment and be with him better than I was then. I know the parents of the young men who died Friday night. We all say it, but we can’t imagine being in their place. How do you bear the unbearable? What do you do?

I suppose you take the next breath. You take the next step. You get up the next morning. Or you don’t. I don’t know.

As I said, this cuts deeply through a small town. I know these kids. We are their village. There are hundreds of connections that bind us. I know these boys from school, the swimming pool, park and rec, everywhere really. In various summers, my son was baseball teammates with Tyler, John, and Payton. It strikes me that remembering them as boys playing baseball is a good thing.

There will be lots of sharing of stories in the days ahead. We’ll build an intangible memorial to the young men, and it will be made up of these stories. I’ll share one.

A few years ago, I was coaching third base in a kid’s ballgame at Stark. Payton was on first, a runner ahead of him at second. There was a ball hit to the outfield, and there would be a play at the plate as the lead runner tried to score. The catcher went up the first base line a step to take the throw and the runner scored.

It never occurred to me to even look at Payton coming to third, as he would of course hold up with the play ahead of him. He never slowed a tick and blurred past me. Payton had seen the catcher move that bit up the line, and he saw that he had a sliver of a moment to score, sliding head first, his left hand reaching out for the plate. It was a crazy-good play. In the dugout after the inning, I said to Scott and Tim, the other coaches, “There is nobody else on Earth who would have scored on that.”

That is how Payton played baseball: full out, uninhibited, with total abandon. It is the way Payton did everything. He was a bundle of kinetic energy. I often wondered how you could possibly get those skinny limbs to be still in a school desk.

Oh, how fascinating it would have been to see the adult Payton would have grown to be, to see the things he could have done as he reined in that energy. That is true for all these young men. They were talented, eminently gifted. They were coming over that crest of land to just look into the world of adulthood. Among the cascade of emotions washing over us is anger, anger that we will not see these lives lived out.

There is a temptation to say their lives were “incomplete” and “unfinished.” That is unfair to their memory. We wanted them to have more time, to go out to the world, to have longer stories. But our lives are like books and there are many types of books. “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo is 1,500 pages. “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway is 90 pages. There are novellas and short stories. Each is full and complete and valuable. Each is to be treasured.

I mentioned the emotions that course through us. Often they congeal around one word, “Why?” It is the abrupt question that will stay with us through the mourning and the funerals and beyond.

As a believer, I have been in situations in the past where someone asked me, “How could this happen? How could God allow this to happen?” I think I came up with something to say. I was smarter in my 30s and 40s than I am now.

Now, I see that there is brilliant light, amazing birth, and incredible good all around me. At the same time, there is darkness, death, and bad things that happen. And all of them are in all our lives.

Did God call these young men home? Did God need four angels in heaven? Was it God’s plan that their car spun on the ice at that moment? To be honest, I don’t know why the hell they died.

I do believe in the deepest part of me that God created Caleb, Tyler, John and Payton. And I believe with all my being that God sent those four beautiful children for a time to be with us. And that those four beautiful children have returned to a loving God.

I believe that. I cling to that. It is all I have.

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