A beautiful boy left this earth recently. He was on the brink of his future, having just left childhood behind, although one could debate whether newly minted high school grads are really adults. Despite the chronological age of eighteen upon which the government confers the limited rights and privileges of adulthood, I don’t know many people of that age who are capable of self-sufficiency and maturity in decision-making to warrant the legal rights of self-determination; the “I’m-eighteen-and-you-can’t-stop-me,” seems more to be the mantra of our culture, which really aren’t words a fully mature person would even need state.
This beautiful boy was developing into a fine young man in so many ways. He’d graduated high school and chosen his college, set, in fact, to depart, just two weeks before he died. He was fortunate to have had part-time employment when so many young people are struggling to find some, and it was a fitting job for a high school-en route-to-college-aged person.
He was a likable guy, too; never was one of these annoying little kids you didn’t want coming over to your house. His cousins thought he was great: he liked cool sports like skate boarding; snow boarding; basketball; wake boarding; disc golf. He’d obligingly don proper golf attire and hit the course with his granddad and younger, golfing-obsessed cousin who admired him, even if it wasn’t his first choice of things to do. He said, “I love you,” freely to people, like his granddad, openly and without reticence.
The last words I heard him say were, “I love you, G-dad,” as he handshook/hugged his 82-year-old grandfather goodbye, just six days before he went to Heaven; that elusive but real place where souls gather in the glory of the Lord.
He was a kid who lived hard and confident, or so it seemed to me, his aunt who really only saw him once or twice a year, due to distance. He always seemed to come willingly to visit when we’d be in town, a kid who’d talk to me for real about how he was doing, show me the skating videos he’d made with his friends when he was in 8th grade, complete with a few f-bombs and giving the camera the finger, all of which sort of made the whole thing as cute and edgy as skating down concrete steps and metal hand railings really are. He knew how to push the envelope, a trait which was pretty much ingrained in him at a young age; a bit more of a risk-taker than some.
He was also a kid who would happily play with his younger cousins; digging in the sand with the three-year-old and cuddling on the couch with the preschool girl, both their faces shining up into my lens from the story he was reading to her at that moment. He’d grab his shy younger girl cousin and give her a bear hug, and play Pokemon on what ever-evolving handheld gaming system that his younger boy cousin had at the moment. He was a beautiful boy for people of all ages.
With his peers, he seemed to be at the center of things; their group had developed a certain culture and parlance that indicated their lifestyle and musical taste. Of course, he had the most gorgeous girl as his girlfriend. As the faraway aunt I could only gaze at the Facebook pictures to know this maturing boy who was my nephew, my godson. When I saw a few recent photos that displayed two sizeable tattoos, I admit it, my heart kind of sank. I’m old school: I worry when a kid gets tatted for fear of their putting something lame on their body they’d have to wear for all time. I’ve seen too many of those tattoos already.
So when I saw the beautiful boy the last time, six days before he left us, I was able to hug him and give him his graduation check and couldn’t resist mentioning the tats. He insisted in lifting his shirt to show me despite my reluctance to look. What I saw took me by surprise and I felt a visceral sort of relief.
The first one was a banner type – high on the back, shoulder to shoulder; an elaborate scroll with the words “Trust in God” inked there. Then, along his side torso he’d had his surname inked, in an old English font.
I was glad he’d showed me, glad I looked. Because I felt, and I told him, “Well, if you had to have tats, at least you chose something worthwhile, something you can live with.” I mean, a kid doesn’t choose the motto ‘Trust in God’ if that isn’t the sentiment of his heart. So I was relieved and happy to see that; not so much when he slung his arm across the shoulder of his 14-year-old cousin (my son) and told him that when he turned 18, the beautiful boy would take him to get his first tattoo. We had a nervous laugh about that, and then we stood around chatting for a few more minutes until it was time for the beautiful boy to leave. He and his family were to go camping for a few days, just the four of them, but this would be the first and only time I’d had visit with him during my trip there.
My son, his cousin, had spent a few more afternoons with him, being driven about in the boy’s truck, custom-fitted with sub-woofers that blasted his favorite music and amused my son, who thought it was so cool to drive with him. They’d all played golf with their granddad a few times, and that night, as we were saying goodbye, the beautiful boy parted from us with an idea of getting together one more time for golf, but there wasn’t any time left for that. We were grateful for the time we did have with him: grateful that my son got to spend time alone with him; grateful that he hung out so willingly with his cousin and granddad; grateful that he’d made the long drive with his parents to gather at a family election night party; grateful that I saw what he’d chosen for his tattoos with my own eyes. Grateful that my last image of the beautiful boy in life is that of his hugging his elderly granddad with the words, “I love you, G-dad,” before waving to me with a smile and walking through the front door. Six days later, he was gone to Heaven, forgiven, trusting in God, while his family, and friends struggle with the searing pain of losing such a beautiful boy so unexpectedly.
And now we carry on with the motto the beautiful boy left us: we Trust in God.
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Jeannie Greenwald is a blogger, neighborhoods / 'go local' evangelist, hobbyist photographer, and degreed psychologist.