Balloons and Candles

Dressed in my parka, hands stuffed into my pockets I walk the path through the park a few blocks from my home. A third of the way through the park I veer off to my left, across the grassy field and towards the line of trees. Once through the other side there emerges in front of me a small grassy hill which I climb under the moonlight and stars. And once I reach the top I am able to look down into the ravine where I see the flickering light of candles, one hundred or more, held in silent, shaking hands. I stand there, an outsider, not sure whether I should go down. I do, descending into the bowl-shaped ravine and stand several feet outside the circle of people and notice for the first time that many are wearing blankets over their shoulders. It seems that few of them are adults, but mostly teenagers are present. Hearing no sounds I turn back to my left to continue up the other side of the bowl and towards what appeared to be a makeshift shrine of sorts, with many candles blazing on the ground in the grass. There are two balloons there, held in place by strings tethered to the ground.

I approach and recall that this is the slope that my kids and I will ride our sled down at high speeds when the heavy snows of winter come. Many times I’ve wiped out, the sounds of my grunts meshing with the laughter of my boys as they look down at my sprawled form from their perch at the summit.

There is no snow here today, the foot of snow we received two weeks ago having melted away in the warm, sunny days of the past two weeks. Now there is only brown grass. Brown grass. Balloons. And candles. There is one other shape that I can now begin to see due to the fragile light of the small candles. An easel stands here, holding a large black and white photo of a smiling face. I recognize the face of my neighbor’s sixteen-year-old son.

It is the face of a boy who took his own life a few days ago.

I can’t stand here long, because in looking at him I see my own son, also sixteen, and I begin to sob. Standing here I remember the loud, innocent laughter and shouting as both boys played together when they were eight years old. We had just moved in across the street and they were playing with this boy’s older brother. All three were laughing the laughs of lazy childhood summer days.

That was the last summer our kids played together. Our sons moved in different circles socially, each with their own friends in this larger city. But I watched the comings and goings of this child as he grew into a teenager. Troubled, it seems, and carrying the weight of his own demons who finally drove him to make one last and desperate act.

I take a last look at the smiling face of my neighbor’s dead son and walk again to the bottom of the bowl, silently I pass the teenagers, friends and fellow students of the boy, and walk back up to the top on the other side. And here I stand, silently looking down, my hands in my pockets, praying for them all.

Dear God, let his pain be gone and his soul at peace. In your divine mercy, I ask for forgiveness for this child of yours who was so confused and burdened by the pressures of this life that he felt there was no way he could continue.

Lord, hold his family in your arms and lift them up during their time of need.

Please support his dad, a good man, grieving his son far too soon.

Lift up his brother, who lost his mom a few years ago and now his brother. Be his strength and help him to be strong.

Dear God I pray for his grandmother, in whose house they all live. She’s seen so much pain come to her son and his family. Please help her in this time of need and going forward.

I begin to softly pray a rosary beneath the moon but am interrupted as a group of the kids place themselves by the boy’s photo and begin to talk. They want to say a few words about him and invite others to do the same. I listen as these kids go through the motions of their grieving and witness their struggle to make sense of the senseless.

Jesus, lift up and guide these children here below me. Sad, confused and hurting. Help them to see that life is not this dark, and that here beneath the night sky there is a moon reflecting but a small piece of that light. Let them know that there will be a sunrise tomorrow and the sun shall once again warm their faces if they turn towards the light.

Lord let them turn to your light, and be warmed by your loving embrace.

My prayer ends and I turn to begin the walk back towards the tree line, into the park, and towards home. The cars that lined our small street all day to bring words of comfort and hot dishes of food are now gone. Inside is a family immersed in their grief. As I walk into my driveway I resolve to pay my respects tomorrow and in the days to come.

Lord, let me reflect your light somehow and warm their faces. Make me your instrument.

Eternal rest, grant unto him O Lord
and let perpetual light shine upon him.
May he rest in peace. Amen.

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