Archive for Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Old friends, they mean so much

February 19, 2003

It was a hard trip -- first the fog that obscured Kansas as we drove across the state Friday morning -- then the funeral.

Nick, one of our middle son, Ted's, best friends, died last week. Even after the weekend trip back to St. John for the service at the church where he was baptized as an infant, after the walk through the cemetery, and the visit with his mother -- it still doesn't seem real.

How could Nick, a college student who had everything going for him -- intelligence, a sense of humor, a love of people, a personality that drew others to him -- have made the fatal mistake?

In Emporia last week Nick picked up his shotgun to clean it. The gun went off and Nick's life ended instantly.

In a time tragic as this, one can only wonder: Why? How could that have happened?

Boys in central Kansas, where dove, pheasant, quail and geese are plentiful, take to the fields with shotguns long before they're old enough to drive. For many, hunting is a rite of passage -- first a BB gun for Christmas, later a shotgun, later another. The boys learn early on how to take be cautious with firearms.

As a young teen, Nick twice completed hunter safety courses. His father was the assistant teacher.

"What could I have done differently?" the hunter education instructor asked Saturday.

Unfortunately, there's nothing he could have done differently. Nick knew all the lessons -- he'd passed the tests, he'd been hunting for more than a decade.

But he must have forgotten that the gun still had one shell in it -- a moment of forgetfulness that cost him his life.

Oftentimes, accidents can be prevented -- but it takes constant vigilance to do so -- especially where guns are involved.

The last time I saw Nick was in July when we stopped in Emporia to see our son. Nick and Ted -- big husky boys who had both shaved every strand of blond hair from their heads -- looked like brothers. There was the familiar twinkle in Nick's eyes as he smiled.

Others from St. John were with them that day -- kids who've stuck together all their lives and now are going to college together. Even then, their closeness reminded me of these words from a Harry Chapin song: "Old friends, they mean much more to me than the new friends, because they can see where you are and they know where you've been."

Those who knew Nick loved him, and those who didn't, missed out. It will be a long time, if ever, that the pain from losing him goes away.

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