That was the headline in the paper on Wednesday, May 6, 2009.
It happened not too far from my house, on a beautiful country road after a rain.
An old oak tree, snapping off at its base, fell across the road crushing the pick-up truck that little Nicholas Kirby and his family were riding in. His name was Nicholas, but they called him Bobby. The rest of the family, along with Bobby’s best friend, Elena, survived the horrific ordeal.
They were just a few minutes from home when it happened, running an errand like families do.
An unexpected tragedy. Tragedies happen. They happen to every family, not just this one. But they don’t happen to every family to this degree, or as completely out of the realm of comprehension as this one. And everyone is asking “Why?” Truth is, there is no answer. This is one of those life circumstances where there is only a question, and a rhetorical one at that. Not in a million years did anyone in the family expect that when they piled into the truck that day that an oak tree would crush their little boy to death before they got home. It was not even possible to think of that possibility.
Bobby had just got a new puppy. His name was Donut.
Which leaves us wondering, “What is the purpose of such a tragedy? What is the reason? What is the lesson? What sense does it make? We are left wondering because it is not an equation that settles comfortably into our consciousness. There is no purpose. There is no reason. There is no lesson. It makes no sense. There is only what we do with it having happened. That is all there is, and each person connected to it, family, friends, even strangers, will do something different with it. What we learn about ourselves in such a situation, and what we do with it, those will, ultimately, be the defining aspects of the tragedy.
Some of us will call it the will of God, and will accept it as that. Some of us will be angry at God for allowing such a thing to happen. Some will block it out, not wishing to acknowledge that something like that could happen to anybody, and at any time. Some will blame the County for not inspecting more closely the health of the trees that line our country roads. Some will be paralyzed with grief. Some will not even give it a second thought. Some will give thanks for the brief life of the little boy, and be inspired by who, and what, he has been. Some will draw more closely to their own children, realizing that life is but a fleeting moment in time. Some will become part of a lasting support system for the family members. Some will avoid them as much as possible, not having the words to speak, feeling too inadequate to even be in the presence of such unfathomable loss. Some people will provide services and comfort for the family through this extended time. Some will donate whatever they feel could help ease the immediate burden. Some will be thankful that it was not their child. Someone may start a foundation to memorialize little Bobby, to not let his death go unnoticed, to create something positive from the circumstances. Others will participate in the perpetuation of that foundation. Some will cry and experience a pervasive sadness, not even understanding why they are being so deeply affected. It will be about something in themselves, but this little boy will have touched that place within them.
The thing about such an unexpected loss of such an innocent, and vulnerable life, it requires something from us. We may try to put it out of our minds, but, nevertheless, it does require something from us, as individuals, and as a community. And we each respond with what we have. Bobby’s death will provoke something in our world that was not in play before it happened.
A witness at the accident site said a white butterfly appeared while the rescue workers were at Bobby’s side. It circled three times, paused over Bobby’s body, and then flew off.
I don’t know what that means, but I like that it happened. It will be an enduring image for anyone who hears the story of little Nicholas (Bobby) Kirby.