To the man who gave me two thumbs up and smiled approvingly as you ran toward me on top of the bridge this morning, I wonder if you stop for the same reasons?
I stop at Cole’s memorial everyday I run past it because I am a mother who loves a boy, too. I know how deep and steady that love runs, carved into my heart like a river wears through rock. I know to love a boy child is different than even the love of a girl one. I stop because somehow my obsession to keep running is quieted when I feel my legs might buckle under my stride if I can’t stop to honor his memory. I stop to pray for Cole and thank him for the lessons his life has taught me.
I only knew Cole in small stories, like when he would come into the snack room at school. I volunteered every other week, so much of the story is missing. My memories of Cole are like a book I think I read, but then regrettably remember I never found the time to pick up. I mostly remember his tousled hair and lopsided grin. They told me how down-to-earth and easygoing he was. Cole didn’t care to impress- he just did because of the kid he was. I took for granted that he would grow and go into high school like his classmates and go on to college like the rest of his peers plan to do. Their stories are still unfolding.
After the accident, I began measuring time in terms of “before Cole died” and “after.” Autumn is when things begin to die, but not in Florida. We don’t know winter. How could we become acquainted with death? Cole’s death disturbed me in ways I could have never dreamed. I found my mind was unruly and wouldn’t settle down, running in exhaustive circles all night. His death stirred in me the agonizing pain of regret and grief and loss. Nothing felt safe anymore. I questioned my ability to make good parenting decisions. Was I endangering the lives of my children by allowing them to ride their bikes? Walk to the park? Sleepover at friends’ houses? Eat solid food? Go out the front door? Tie their shoelaces?
I would tell that man running toward me, stranger that he is to me even in this small town, Cole didn’t die in vain. Every day, I squeeze my kids just a little bit tighter. I kiss them and tell them I’m so grateful for them. I don’t run with my back to traffic much anymore and I teach my children to do the same. I would tell thumbs-up runner that I admire Cole’s parents, that they still acknowledge a good God. I would tell him that my faith is too fragile to understand why he was taken from us so soon.
I would tell my fellow bridge runner that I stop to honor a boy who lost his life to a senseless accident, one that has torn a small town apart and left a gaping hole of misery for too many to make peace with. We soldier on, but we still look for signs and wonders and clues. We want an answer. We don’t understand why we lost a boy on a bridge that night. I would tell him I appreciate his kind gesture, but I’m not looking for approval for my quiet ritual. I’m looking for peace and offering my condolences to a family reluctantly of four now, as a mother who loves a boy, too.