I was 17, I was invincible. And much like my friends, we thought nothing could go wrong.
The day was November the 8th. I'm originally from Northern Michigan, so the community was ecstatic about the anticipation of another hunting season just seven days away. The season was promising because the moon was nearly full, and a waning moon in later parts of November indicate that breeding amongst the deer populations will soon be high and bucks will be running around.
No one really knows what happened that night on November 8th, but one thing was certain — three were left lifeless, a fourth left with severe brain damage which he will never 100% recover from without a miracle from God. The one with severe damage as well as two of the three dead came directly from my closest circle of friends during high school, and everything had changed. The only theory there has been offered was that the promising moon suggested teenagers should drive with their lights off for the thrill, a practice that wasn't un-too-familiar amongst our little clique.
Much of what was said for the next three months was a blur for my friends and (I can only imagine) the families of those involved. I am thankful that nothing to that severity has struck the youth community I work with. Tragedy is never something we're allowed to predict, but it is something we should always be prepared for.
First, we must always be listeners before talkers. Immediately after the tragedy, I recall sitting in a circle with those of us who weren't in that vehicle. All that was heard was the teardrops of "strong young men" falling like waterfalls. I remember thinking if there was anything we had to do as friends, it was to stick together, and we knew that no-one in that circle would ever be able to provide an answer for each other. But we could support each other by being there for each other, and silence had become our best resource available.
Second, don't promise everything will be okay or that there's a good purpose behind it. One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn in church leadership is that Satan sometimes wins small victories. I don't believe he ever wins the war, but I do know that he's still very real in this world. And when crisis or tragedy strikes, everything isn't okay, and we shouldn't promise life when we can't give it back. I was told this time and time again by those trying to support me, and I remember wanting to scream back: "No! It's not okay and it won't be okay! This isn't good!"
Third, follow up cannot be forgotten. Less than 6 months following my experience, almost everyone had resumed life as if nothing had happened or no-one was missing. Feeling conflicted, I made a trip over to one of the parents' house to see how they were doing. We ended up crying together because we needed to hear that someone else missed the person. But what struck me most was what my friend's mom said, "What we miss most is having you guys around" (his friends).
Only God will ever right the pain that comes with tragedy or crisis, but I encourage us, especially as youth leaders, not to provide the answers for once. It's a practice I'm always trying to improve because I'm always the first with something to say. But sometimes, there isn't anything we can say.
- Has your community faced tragedy and you have more helpful suggestions to contribute?
- Action: follow up with that person who needs to hear from you.