I sit in my minivan (because it is a chilly fall day and the wind is blowing) watching life unfold on the high school football field. Across the street is a church my church. The parking lot is filled, with overflow spilling onto the streets. I would think the activity unusual for a Monday afternoon if I didn't know about the funeral going on inside. Outside, the boys in purple jerseys go up against their teammates who are wearing white. It is an inner-squad scrimmage. Parents who dare brave the elements stand on the sidelines cheering for their sons. Each team struggles to win because that's what it's about. A stone's throw away, another boy's struggle has ended and he lies in a coffin. Last year he wore a purple football jersey and played under the lights on Friday nights. He felt the chill of fall and the cool wind blowing. Now people come to mourn this lost life. They cry and they question. How could this happen? The boys playing football are just that: boys. But, they are on the verge of adulthood. Their jostling and game play seems young, innocuous and innocent to a mom watching from the sidelines, but to them this is the center of life at the moment. They are teenagers living in the moment. Sometimes I forget that how in the moment they are. The line between high school and adult life can be thick or thin, black and white or infinite shades of gray. Either way, I don't think growing up is ever without some distractions (at best) or complete crisis (all too often). It is a tenuous time the days between and within youth and adulthood. Tenuous. Precious. Tumultuous, frightening and unfolding at the speed of light. My own son is on the left side of this fence. Nearly a man, but still a boy. Others, just a year or two older, can be described in the reverse. As a mother, I find this stage a difficult one. I'm more than capable of putting Band-Aids on boo boos I can see. The invisible boo boos are what I fear: scars on the psyche, the heart, the spirit. How does a mom go about diagnosing let alone treating those? I sit in my minivan, waiting for football practice to end. On the other side of the street, a community pauses to mourn. Elsewhere, life pushes on. Babies wake from their naps. Supper goes into the oven. Kids need rides to football or soccer practice. Today was my day to drive. Talk about bad luck. Today I was not able to balance my commitments between life and death. The thought makes me shake my head with the bitter chuckle verging on tears. How can life be the way it is sometimes? How can a mom have to choose between driving her kids to practice or attending another child's funeral? How does the mom whose child is gone deal with her loss? What would she give to leave the service to drive her son to practice? Life is not fair. If only. If only I could change the world for this mother (and father and sister) I would. We all would. If only. Instead, life marches on. Football will end and basketball practice will begin. Basketball will yield to baseball. Another summer will come and go. Next year, I will be back at the football field, sitting in my minivan, watching the boys I've watched grow up since preschool. They will be taller then than they are now, their shoulders broader. Parents will cheer at scrimmages and games. I will join them weather permitting. The boys on the field will grow up and grow old. We will remember them as boys, but in our reality they will become men with receding hairlines, expanding waistlines, wives, children, mortgages and leftover meatloaf for lunch on Thursday. The boy across the street will not. His life here on earth has ended and is forever frozen in time. It is a loss shouldered by his family, friends, everyone who loved and knew him and even those who never got the chance to meet him. It is not a loss about blame or guilt or fault. It is a loss about loss. Terrible loss. It's as simple and as complicated as that.
Slices of Life is collecting followers on Facebook. Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." She offers writing and design services at marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com