She was 24 with long wavy chestnut hair and a smile that lit up every room she entered. She was riding in a UTV driven by her boyfriend in a field in western Iowa. He didn’t see where the earth had given way to all the recent rain. The UTV hit that invisible rut, threw her out and rolled.
She was 11 with long straight golden brown hair and bright, wondrous eyes. She was riding a dark black horse on a trail in Yellowstone National Park. At the top of a cliff, the horse veered off the trail, threw her off and both tumbled down the near vertical face of a 300 foot high canyon.
One of them died.
One of them didn’t.
This was the question running through my mind during the funeral. This was a question I could not answer. Nobody could answer it but God. It was fate, determined by God, that I was at the funeral of the 24-year-old daughter of our friends and had not, six years earlier, been at my own 11-year-old daughter’s funeral.
When I first saw Anna lying motionless on the face of a cliff in Yellowstone, I assumed she was seriously injured, possibly dying. With my eyes, I could draw a straight line from the point where the horse left the trail to Anna glued to the canyon face about halfway down to the horse, dead, in the creek at the bottom. There was no way the horse didn’t land on her on the way down or at least hit her with one of its hooves.
But the horse didn’t even touch her. She had a bruised lung, a few scrapes and nothing else. It should have been worse.
I was thinking of this as I listened to the service of our friend’s daughter. I was imagining myself in the front pew, my beautiful daughter silent in a casket a few feet in front of me, my wife inconsolable next to me. It was surreal, devastating. Our family and our lives, irreparably changed like theirs now was.
After the funeral, we chatted briefly with our friends. Actually, my wife spoke to them, I was silent. There were no words I could imagine saying that would be of any comfort. One day their daughter was alive, full of life. Then they were burying her. What can you say?
All I could do was be there, hug them and let them know we would support them as much as we could.
In a few months, Anna will be heading off to college. She has grown into a kind, caring and confident woman. I can’t wait to see what comes next for her. I’m grateful I get to see it.
The rain fell down heavy from dark clouds and struck his body like a thousand pebbles all at once. Each drop seemed to pass right through him before landing softly on the pavement. He didn’t feel the wetness of the rain, only the pain of it. He was a tall, slender man, except for the slight bulge about his mid-section. His hair was dark brown and thick and short but wet it looked black and thin pressed down on his receding hairline. He had a boyish face except for the puffiness under his brown eyes that gave away his late 30’s age. His arms dangled at his sides with his keys clutched in his right hand and a closed tall golf umbrella in his left. Absently, with his soft-sided faux leather briefcase shoved under his left arm, he just stood there next to his jet black Lexus, eyes cast down, absorbing the pain. The light from the open garage in front of him did not seem to penetrate the outside making it appear as if there was a glass wall between him in the cold rain and the dry warmth inside.
A slow squeak caught his attention and he lifted his head. In the doorway between the garage and the house he could see four eyes staring at him. He squinted through the rain and the pain and saw the flowing auburn hair of his oldest daughter and the light golden ponytail sticking straight up in the middle of the head of his youngest daughter. They blinked. He looked down. The rain fell harder.
How was he going to tell her? She would do what needed to be done, he knew that, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. There would be fewer smiles from her for some time or maybe no smiles ever again. Oh how he lived for her smiles! They were enormous and lit up her face brighter than the sun. He could get blinded by just one of those smiles. He lived a lifetime in each moment she smiled. Now they would be gone. Their future changed. Their everything unknown...
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The ref had had enough. He turned to the dad on the sidelines who had been yelling at him and sternly said, “Sir, go to your car.” The dad did not. He reminded the ref, louder, how wrong he had been about his most recent call. “Sir, if you do not go back to your car, I will forfeit this game!”
The dad’s kid ran across the field and pleaded with his father to go to his car. The dad picked up his lawn chair and turned toward the parking lot, walked a few steps, and turned back toward the ref. He yelled again at the ref. “Dad, please!!!”
The dad turned away again, took another few steps toward the parking lot, still yelling but not directly at the ref. The ref stood still, arms crossed, brow furrowed, watching the dad. The dad turned around again toward the ref to give him one more last piece of his mind. The ref blew his whistle. “That’s it! The game is forfeited.” The ref and assistant refs left the field.
This happened last spring during my son’s soccer game. These were 12-year-olds. The father was from the opposing team and they were losing a close game. Because of one dad, the game ended early.
If you have ever been to a youth sports game, you have experienced situations like this. Some parents seem to act like they are at a Bears/Packer game, yelling at their kids, yelling at the refs. It’s ridiculous.
The purpose of a child to play a sport is to get physical activity, develop a love for sport, make new friends, learn how to deal with challenges, develop team building skills and, most of all, have fun. It is not to become Megan Rapinoe.
The purpose of the referee is to keep the players safe and make the game as fair as possible. They are not going to be perfect. In fact, that imperfection provides kids with the opportunity to learn how to overcome unfair obstacles, a key fact of adult life.
None of the teammates of my kids are going to be professional soccer players. A few may get college scholarships, which is certainly very valuable, but it is unlikely I will see any of them in a World Cup.
I think parents forget this. I know they want the best for their kids but some have lost sight of the reason their kids are playing in the first place. I think they yell to protect their child and help their child. They are doing neither.
When a child makes a mistake, they know it. They don’t need “reinforcement” from their parents. When a ref makes a mistake, he or she makes a mistake. So what! The kids, like the pros in this case, need to learn to move on to the next play and overcome the refs mistake because that is how life is in the real world. Yelling at the ref makes the child think that behavior is right, and it isn’t.
I have progressively got quieter on the sidelines over the years. I was like most parents and yelled at refs and told my kids what to do on the pitch. Listening to other parents do that made me rethink my actions. I thought about how I would feel if I was their child. It made me cringe.
The vitriol from parents at the refs is awful. I have refereed soccer and remember how demoralizing it feels. When I did yell at a ref as a parent on the sidelines, I was more than likely right because I know the game, but it was still wrong to do. They made a mistake, maybe, but now I have chosen to remain quiet. So many refs quit every year but they are a critical part of the game. It’s not worth it to argue a call if the result is the ref quits. Most refs are good and try hard and make a mistake from time to time. That’s life.
Most parents don’t know the game well and yell at the refs about calls they don’t understand. I stick up for the refs now on the sidelines. If the parents on my team yell at the ref, I calmly explain the call and why it was right. Occasionally, I tell them the ref got it wrong and I tell them it’s no big deal. It happens. It’s part of the game. Oh, and the kids are 12!
Even for those few parents who know the game well their child is playing, they have no excuse for abusing the ref or umpire. The refs are doing their best and they are going to make mistakes which is part of the game. No ref is purposely trying to disadvantage your kid.
I feel like some parents think a ref or coach or teammate or opposing player is treating their child unfairly. We all have our opinion on what is “fair”, though. And fair is not whatever is good for my child. And fair is never really fair anyway.
Anytime my kids complain about a ref I always ask them, “Did the ref put the ball in your net?” Sure, she made a few bad calls, I explain, but you have to overcome those. That’s part of the game. That’s part of life.
For me when it comes to youth sports, mom’s advice is best: if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.