Thursday, April 26, 2012

Six Years: A Remembrance

I've been wanting to write down my thoughts and memories from that night [and weeks to follow] for years now, and I haven't.  A fellow TU friend shared a post this morning, and that finalized it for me. The further I get from that date the less I recall, mainly the small details, and I've become content with the fact that the details don't matter.  It is a day I will never forget as long as I live.  I try to think about how many of those days I truly have. We can say we have great memories, but what days in your life pop up as so life changing that you can play through the full day and remember whether or not the sun was shining that day?

I have a few over the past decade.  Our wedding day, the birth of our daughters, the loss of a housemate to suicide, and then six years ago, April 26th 2006.

I actually don't completely recall the morning or afternoon since it was just like any other, but I remember the evening and following days well.  One of my best friends and I were over at an off-campus apartment doing some homework. Our boyfriends were on the baseball team together, and roommates, so we were having a double homework date of sorts. It had already started to grow dark by the time another baseball player stepped into the apartment and said, "There's been an accident. One of the banquet vans coming back from Ft. Wayne was hit by a semi-truck."

The news hit slowly, as if it weren't real. No no no. You only hear these things on the news, right? Not from the mouth of a fellow classmate. He rattled off at least one name he had heard and my stomach dropped to the floor.  I feel like here is an appropriate time to add that Taylor University is a small school. A little over 1800 students at that time [I gave tours, they made me memorize it], and not only is it a small school, it is a tight-knit school.

Taylor is a family. 

Taylor feels like home.

It isn't hard to know almost every one, either by face or name. In this case, I knew the sister of the girl mentioned. She lived on my floor. I took a deep breath. My friend's boyfriend was already at the computer looking for information, and we turned the news on the TV. All the information was jumbled and all you could see was a torn up white passenger van and horrified news anchors. News poured in randomly from other students and websites, saying that five people had been killed, and others were airlifted to Ft. Wayne. It was hard to know what was really happening.

More name rumors poured in, and my friend recognized the name of a lifelong friend. A friend she knew because both their parents had attended Taylor together. I remember her disappearing from the room for awhile.  I remember turning off the TV, not wanting to know anymore. Students were gathering at the chapel that evening for information, and I remember not going. It was easier to pretend it wasn't happening. I didn't want to know who. I couldn't hear it yet.  I called my parents and let them know that I was alive and well, since it wouldn't be long before news of the accident got out.

A campus service was held the next morning. I tried to wake my friend to go but she was in a state. She didn't really understand what I was telling her, and by the look on her face, I decided to let it go. I went with Dustin [my boyfriend at the time]. We were told the information the other students were told the night before. Who had died. What had happened. And an update about the one student who had survived and was being cared for in Ft. Wayne.

Classes were cancelled for the day.

I remember walking out of the chapel and thinking it unusually cruel just how beautiful it was outside. The sun was shining brightly, flowers were blooming on campus, and the temperature was perfect.  I remember wishing it would rain, wishing that the weather would reflect the mood of our campus. It was hard to not be angry and upset, especially as more and more details about the accident poured in over the next few days. It felt like every morning and night there was a new piece of information, a new rumor, a new update.

A Casting Crown song arose.

I will praise you in this storm.

Condolences poured in from around the country, some from overseas.  Banners arrived from other small schools around the country.  They were hung in the chapel, filled with names of those praying for our school and with Bible verses filled with encouragement. Funeral and memorial services were planned for the deceased. A update blog was created for the surviving student. Classes restarted.

The sun continued to shine.

Details came out for one particular students funeral. Something along the lines of: Wear bright colors, not black. We want to celebrate her life. We want to celebrate that she is rejoicing in Heaven with her Lord.

It struck me then.  I don't know why it took so long. Death had not conquered, it had not won.

“O death, where is your victory?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

Five beautiful people were celebrating their homecoming with their Lord and Savior, just earlier than anyone would have expected. God's plans are not our own. We were mourning below, hoping for just one downpour and clash of thunder.  Our former classmates and brothers and sisters in Christ were celebrating up above. Their joy was shining down on us.  It is hard to understand why certain things happen, but we don't have to understand.  We have to have faith in Christ.  He knows the plans he has for us. [Jer. 29:11]

The accident happened just weeks from the end of the year, so it wasn't long before finals were completed and we were all packing up our dorm rooms; filling our cars with boxes of clothes and personal items. The end of the year was always really bittersweet, and that year was no different.  I was headed home to Philly for a short two weeks before packing up and heading back west, and into Michigan to work at a summer camp.

Those two weeks flew. I remember checking the update blog on the surviving student several times a day. The Taylor community rejoiced with each step forward she took, and with all the progress, no matter how little.  She was starting to come around, starting to try and communicate.

I was driving my car somewhere in Ohio when I got the call from my [now] mother-in-law. The news was like another punch in the stomach. The student we had been praying and rooting for for the past five or so weeks, was dead. A student we had thought to be dead, was alive. They had been misidentified. Mistaken for one another.

More questions of how and why.

God's plans are not our own.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 
Isaiah 55:8

Many of you probably know where it goes from here.  It made national news, there is a book, and you've most likely seen the families on popular talk shows.  You've also hopefully seen the love and acceptance and hope pouring out of both families.

As my friend said in her blog."Whenever and wherever this story is told around the world, the LORD's name will always be praised."


Caroline said...

Oh Jess. I remember that story from the national news. The mistaken identity especially caught attention throughout the country. I know I felt a deep sadness for the lives lost, so I can't imagine having it happen in your own community. Thank you for sharing your memories and helping those lost to live on.

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