My life is normal. I wake up, I go to school, I run, I sleep; repeat. There aren’t many opportunities to stop and reflect on what has brought me to where I am today, that is until the other day. It was an average Tacoma day, cloudy skies with a hint of sunshine and a wind that chills you down to your bones. I headed out in a sweatshirt, UGG boots, and running shorts (my usual outfit). I wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew. I walked down 26th Street toward Union, my usual route. As I passed the Rosewood Cafe, I saw a familiar face.
The girl looked about my age and height with long sandy brown hair. We locked eyes and immediately a name came to my mind. It was my best friend from Wisconsin, Angela James, who I hadn’t seen in over eight years. We both jumped up and hugged like it hadn’t been anytime at all since we had last seen each other. She was in Tacoma to look at the University of Puget Sound and had gone to the cafe to get some lunch. Naturally, I offered to show her the town that had been my home of the last eight years. We made plans to meet later by the campus.
Around two, I met her on the corner of the campus, where we began our walk through the streets I had come to know so well. Angela asked me about my life here, my family, and my new friends. I didn’t know where to begin. I began with three years ago, a little over half way into my life in Tacoma. I tried to keep it to major life-changing events, but life is life and even the littlest moments can count for a lot.
I began with my trip to France for my cousin’s wedding. The trip began as amazing, we saw the Louvre, the Eiffel tower, Notre Dame, all the usual tourist sights. Near the end of the trip, the whole family went to Cape Ferret to stay with my mom’s cousins. We lounged on the beach, went swimming, biked through town; everything was great. The day before we were due to leave, we thought it would be fun to see the Atlantic, since my brother, Ian, and I hadn’t seen it since we were little. That’s when things took a turn for the worst. We were all enjoying the water. The waves were ten feet high shore crashers; pounding the sand every other minute.
Ian and my dad were coming out of the water when they were hit from behind by one of the waves. They were both thrown by the wave, but my dad was slammed head first into the sand. At first he couldn’t move his arms, and feared drowning. Luckily, my brother was next to him to pull him out. Immediately, he knew something was wrong. Since we had biked there, and there were about two football fields and a sand dune between the bikes, and us he needed a new form of transportation. My mom’s cousin, Albert, called the French equivalent of 911 who sent beach patrol down and later a helicopter to take him to the hospital in Bordeaux, two and a half hours away.
My brother and I went to my mom’s cousin’s house and waited to hear any news. It wasn’t until well after midnight that my mom’s cousin told us that my dad had broken his neck at his C3 C4 vertebra. Most people with that kind of break are paralyzed or even killed. We were able to see him the next day when he was in a medicated coma. I had never seen so many tubes coming out of one person.
I tried to convey my emotions to Angela at the time. You would think I would have been reassured by seeing by dad alive and breathing, but some unknown fear just welled up inside me. Seeing my dad so weak and vulnerable was too much for me to handle. He had always been a figure of strength and fire. I couldn’t stop crying for the next two days. The next time we saw him, he was awake and talking, progress he fought to make for my benefit. His roommate, a seventeen-year-old boy with the same fracture, was now a quadriplegic, while my dad could soon walk down the hallway and ultimately out of the hospital.
Like most people, Angela was in a state of disbelief. You don’t hear of many people walking away from an accident like that with nothing but a scar to show for it. Having almost lost my dad I had found my faith a little shaken. I would be lost without my dad. From my dad’s accident I came to learn that God is constantly trying to direct us back toward him. As my mom so brilliantly said, “God has been gently knocking Dad on the head trying to get him to listen, this time he just hit a little harder.” God’s plan became fairly apparent within the next few days. It turned out that Bordeaux is the spine capital of France and one of my mom’s friends in Tacoma is married to a spine surgeon that my dad could check in with upon his return. Everything fell into place like God didn’t want us to suffer, he just wanted to turn our heads his direction. Upon returning, everyone already knew and brought us food for everyday of the week. Our friends came through for us and the community embraced us. Like the compassionate person she is, Angela told me she wished she had been able to be there for us. I smiled and thanked her for her kind thoughts.
Compared to that the story of my eighth graduation was no big deal. I graduated as one of three valedictorians for my class at Saint Patrick’s. I told Angela about all the kids in my class that I had grown to love over the past few years. I loved my school, but I was more than ready for the next step in my life, to go to Bellarmine with my brother. I described Bellarmine to Angela. Bellarmine is the local Jesuit high school where my dad and thirty-six other relatives had passed through over the past eighty years. Bellarmine was a new place with two hundred other freshmen to explore. I became more excited in my faith as I watched my brother and his friends participate in the mass at Bellarmine, and heard the Jesuits’ sermons that actually applied to my life. The hardest thing to convey was the immense sense of community that surrounded Bellarmine, but she understood from my consistent smile throughout my explanation.
After playing a season of soccer at Bellarmine like Angela had at Xavier in Wisconsin, I ran track in the spring. That’s where I thrived. I became a varsity runner in the mile and two mile. I told her how that transferred to my cross-country season and track season this year. I’ve won a few races since then and began to learn my value as a member of the team and as a person. The joy you feel after crossing the finish line first can not be compared with, except in sharing that joy with others. At the end of the race, I love to turn around and shake the hands of my opponents. The smallest acknowledgement can make a person’s day, so now everyday I strive to recognize at least one person.
In between, freshman and sophomore year, I had lost my Grandma Staeheli. I told Angela about how my grandma had lived with us since I was in sixth grade. Having never met my grandma, I had to describe her to Angela. She was one of the sassiest and strongest women the world will ever know. As a single mother of eight, a grandmother of twenty-one, and a faithful servant of God, she is an amazing role model. After her passing, I began to realize how much she had influenced my life. The smallest of things she told me to do, like wearing socks to keep my feet warm, have stuck with me. I regret to admit that I was never very nice to my grandma. I lacked and still lack patience. For her, I try to be a kinder person everyday. Each day I find myself being reminded of her presence in the smallest of ways. As we passed the plum trees in bloom, I told Angela about how my Grandma loved these trees and the color pink. Tacoma was a living memory of my Grandma.
By this point in my life story, we were down to the Tacoma waterfront. We sat and watched a few seals bob their heads a little off shore. On the streets of Tacoma, I was home, I could never be lost and on these streets I found myself. Our walk gave me a chance to realize the grace of God that surged through my life and a chance to get to know my friend again. Angela had to get back to her hotel so we parted ways again, not really knowing when we would meet again, but that didn’t matter. The next we saw each other we would pick up just as we had today; like no more than a day had passed. It’s amazing how time has passed and how much life I still have to explore.