There are three large rhododendrons in front of a beautiful white steepled church near the center of the town where I grew up. With the passage of time they have sort of merged together. Just by looking, one would never know why they are there. They were planted in 1984 as small bushes, probably about a foot high at the time. They honor the memory of a sixteen year old boy who was killed as a passenger in a tragic car accident. I was a senior in high school at the time. The young man was incredibly popular. Knowing him from a distance, it seemed he had a lifetime of happiness and achievement ahead of him. The loss devastated the entire community. I will try to make three relevant points, one for each of the shrubs planted that day.
The first is that I still remember the way the pastor of the church somehow managed to comfort the massive congregation struggling to make sense out of such a horrible event. He single handedly took the entire community on his broad shoulders and began a process that would eventually allow life to continue, albeit in a dramatically altered state. He showed me the impact that words can have and how leadership matters.
Secondly, these now anonymous rhododendrons serve as a permanent reminder of how how fragile life is and how quickly it can be taken away. I keep this in mind on the increasingly rare occasions I drive by the church. It is a message I will share someday soon with my kids as they are rapidly approaching the age where this will become relevant.
Finally, and most importantly, I am writing this piece twenty eight years after the tragic loss to let the young boy's mother know in some small way the request she asked of all of us at the time has been honored. Her son is not forgotten.