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A father’s loss

Posted: October 3, 2013 11:56 a.m.
Updated: October 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

“For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” In our lives, there will be circumstances that play out like a well-orchestrated melody, executed in exactly the way we had envisioned; others will leave us in wonderment of their clear purpose. There is no perfect formula to decipher all of life’s events. Some will leave us thinking we know the experience occurred for the right reasons, leaving us feeling content and whole. Some will be unexpected and beyond our understanding. I imagine events in our lives (good and bad) are not as random as we sometimes think; perhaps they are adjoining to form indirect blueprints of what’s to come.

I’d like to believe those who cross our paths over a lifetime have a role to perform. There will be people along the way who will challenge us to a higher stage, their roles obvious. Others’ roles will be equivocal. However, I’m convinced, if we can step back long enough to see the larger view, their roles can be those of the teacher, ultimately revealing greater lessons.

Happenstance would be responsible for my case in point here -- a recent experience that has pushed me to look at that broader vista, that bigger picture we all strive to see in so many of life’s events. I am confident I’m in good company as many of us desire to be part of something greater than ourselves; to be part of something that can make a difference, no matter how small or limitless we deem our role. For me, outside of taking care of my family, I am motivated to work with various groups of people with significant needs, more specifically, with wounded veterans and families of our fallen.

September 11, 2001, marked a tragic day in American history. Almost 3,000 lives were lost on this day including more than 400 first responders. 9/11 also served as a stimulus for operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and New Dawn. More than 6,700 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. And with advancements in battlefront medicine and body armor, an unprecedented percentage of service members are surviving severe wounds or injuries. More than 50,000 have been physically injured in the recent military conflicts. In addition to the physical wounds, it is estimated that as many as 400,000 live with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. We must not fail to remember our wounded veterans as well as the families of our fallen heroes. “The greatest casualty is being forgotten.” It is a group I have been moved to help in some capacity.

At moments in our lives, purpose can be defined and seen as a series of tiny events strung together. If we listen, we can make them count. We can begin to see the blueprint. In my purpose to honor the fallen and wounded, I aspired to run in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run in New York City this month. However, circumstance stepped in with other plans for me. “Maybe next year,” I said to myself. Instead, and on the same day, chance would place me in the midst of the South Carolina State Guard’s 2013 Hurricane Hike. The hike, held in Camden, is put on by the State Guard to hone its readiness to rapidly deploy during a hurricane or other natural or man-made disaster. Participants hiked nine miles while carrying a 45-pound backpack filled with supplies that would be brought into an area that may be impassable by vehicles in the aftermath of a disaster. As I began the hike, I would soon feel like a fish out of water, though excited for the challenge. Towards the end of the hike, with blisters and sore shoulders, I called in for reinforcements. My family would meet me on the trail delivering to me another pair of shoes and socks, and band-aids of course. As I hustled to catch up with a group of hikers, I noticed a lone comrade of sorts, a man whom I had met at the start of the event. I proceeded to re-introduce myself as he did the same. Something struck me as he told me he called Lexington home. I looked at him and showed him a blue medal memorial bracelet I wore with the name of a fallen I honored, a hero who lost his life in Afghanistan protecting the freedoms I love. I said, “You must know the young man listed on my bracelet. He, too, is from Lexington.” He paused then said, “Actually I do know that young man. He was my son.” How could that be I thought. Did I hear him correctly? We both shed tears and more than once over the next hour. And let’s just say the last three miles of the hike, we would hardly remember completing them. We talked without ceasing about his son, a true American hero and about my desire to help the wounded and families of the fallen. As we crossed the finish line together, he handed me the bracelet he’d worn since his son’s death over a year ago. “Please keep this and don’t worry, I have more,” he said. I will never forget that day. It was a moment in that series of events on my blueprint. And I will run with the energy I received. I am constantly striving to live life consciously and authentically and try to realize things don’t happen to us, but rather for us; that even in the bad, we can benefit from the experience. Our circumstances can be steps on a ladder as we try to climb higher towards a purpose.

RIP Ryan Rawl. You will not be forgotten….

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