A child died today. Or perhaps it was yesterday. The days blur into one tragic, slow motion, day-long weekend.
Thousands of children die everyday, but I knew this boy.
J.R., 13, finished 7th grade only a few weeks ago. Yesterday’s sun rose with the promise of a fun-filled day at the rugged Oregon coast with his family and closest friends. By 11:15 a.m., however, J.R. was in trouble. Only God knows how many moments later he actually drowned, caught in an ominous riptide lurking beneath the calm surface of the Pacific.
No one did anything wrong. The adults checked out the surf first. The Oregon coast, known for its treacherous sneaker waves and annual deaths from logs rolling in the water, appeared friendly and safe on this bright morning. Saturday was just a happy day with two families and miscellaneous extra kids tagging along to play in the water and sunshine.
J.R. and his dad, James, were playing in the water, jumping waves. The water was only waist deep. They couldn’t know that they were standing on a temporary sand shelf. They couldn’t know that when they stepped off that shelf, the water was over their heads and a riptide was swirling beneath the surface. In a moment, James and J.R. were sucked further and further out to sea. James told J.R. to float on his back and swim for the shore, before going under himself. Their families and the young friends watched in what grew from disbelief to terror.
In the last moments, James saw his son swimming twenty feet away and calling, “Dad, help me!” In the end, rescuers reached James, but J.R. has yet to be found. The Coast Guard suspended the search late last night.
It is rare, indeed, that I can find no words to express my heart. This is one of those times.
The questions have all been asked before.
How? Why? The prayers have all been uttered before by countless souls losing innocent loved ones for no reason at all. I can think of nothing new to add that wounded generations before me haven’t already cried out, longing for answers that would act as a healing balm for their sorrow.
The sorrow of sorrows.
No parent should have to bury a child. What could be worse? No parent should have to wonder why he or she lived and their child perished. No father should go to sleep with the cry of “Dad, help me!” ringing in his ears.
Why, this boy on this day? Why this family? I don’t know.
But I do know this. No one did anything wrong. And yet, J.R. died.
Horrible events happen in this world.
That’s the way the ebb and flow of life works. Is it any more unfair that J.R. died at 13 rather than at 83? Will he be any more missed?
I don’t think so. In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush declared that each death extinguished an entire world for somebody.
J.R.’s short life was an entire world to those that knew and loved him. He will be sorely missed on this earth.
Someday, we will have the answers to all of the hows and whys. Someday, we will understand why God allowed this boy to die this weekend, and allowed this family to suffer so.
Until then, we must draw comfort in knowing that J.R. was not alone in those last few moments of his life. J.R. knew the Lord Jesus, and his Lord would not leave him to die alone and frightened in the swirling Oregon surf.
James need not be haunted by his son’s last terrified words crying out for help. Those cries were answered even though James was not able to provide it.
Jesus Himself, along with a multitude of angels, were there in those last few moments to take J.R.’s hand and guide him through the swirling surf and into the gates of heaven itself.
J.R. was not alone in death, and neither are we, in life.
In life, or in death, there is really nothing else worth saying.