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Call Vignettes- A Series of Surrenders 3- "The Crash"

My mom talks of the crash in terms of a year, not a week. She talks about our household being off for a year, my dad distant, stressed and hurting after losing his friend; my mom trying to navigate their upturned relationship and maintain a household. There was much happening around me that I was insulated from by my own self-centeredness and ego.

The morning of the crash I crawled into bed next to mom. Dad was already up and out of the house. Mom rolled over and said, “It’s going to be a hard day for the Ketchum’s.”  It seemed like a strange thing to say first thing in the morning. The Ketchum family definitely wasn’t what was on my mind. Then she told me- the police helicopter had crashed in the middle of the night and my dad’s flying partner and friend, Dave Ketchum, had been killed along with two other men.

I was twelve years old and Penny Ketchum, Dave’s daughter, was my friend. I didn’t know what to do so like any preteen, I called my friends. After school a bunch of us went over to Penny’s house. She was sitting on the bumper of a car in front of her house. As we walked up she said, “Did you hear my dad is dead?” It seemed like such an obvious thing to say. Of course we heard, that’s why we’re here. But what else do you say when you’re twelve and your world just fell apart?

For the next week I vacillated between the two awkward preteen extremes of completely smothering my friend to staying away out of a total lack of knowing what to do or say. In my self centered mind the whole week played out like a big party. Mom and Dad were completely disconnected and unavailable for us kids.  They didn’t check our homework or make us dinner. We were at the Ketchum’s every night after school. All the kids rode bikes in the cul de sac as people came and went from the house. The adults sat around and ate and drank. They drank a lot. And they cleaned. The women buzzed around the house always cleaning, keeping themselves busy while Mrs. Ketchum sat on the couch.

I remember a couple sobering moments when I would be snapped out of my party mentality and be forced to remember why we were gathered. The second night we were over at the Ketchum’s, a few of us kids were in the front yard with Penny. She had broken down and was crying, and began asking all kinds of ‘why’ questions. “Why did that man have to steal a car?” “Why did it have to be my dad working?” Then she looked straight at me, “My dad tried to trade shifts with your dad. It should’ve been your dad! Why wouldn’t your dad trade shifts?” I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if it was true or not. But I figured it was a legitimate question for anyone feeling that much pain.

The evening of the funeral we were all gathered back at the house. TVs were on in the bedrooms with a constant parade of news coverage of the police funeral. We kids were sprawled on the bed and playing on the floor. One kid was playing a hand rhythm game against the wall, slapping the floor with her hands every few seconds in a constant rhythm. It seemed as if everyone was talking at once but no one was speaking to each other. All of a sudden Hilary, Penny’s sister, screamed at us, “You are all playing and acting like nothing happened. My dad is dead.” 

The room was silent.  No one said a word. I felt ashamed and yet so estranged from her pain. I went to find my own dad in the swarm of adults. I found him sitting with Penny’s grandmother quietly listening to her despite his own grief. In the middle of the noise and chaos and pain, he sat peacefully, his presence comforting a grieving mother. It was then that I saw the difference between saying I believed in Jesus and choosing to live like Him.

In the midst of all the pain around me I saw something of the Kingdom of God. I recognized the difference between my parents and the other adults around them. This was the first time I saw my parents interact with non Christians over an extended period and there was a marked difference. Everyone was dumbfounded. No one knew what to do. The cops drank. Their wives huddled in corners whispering, so glad it wasn’t them, pitying the Ketchum’s. The news media buzzed around the periphery. But my parents and the other believers among us knew how to rally. They kept their heads. They sat on the couch with Mrs. Ketchum and sent her to nap when things were overwhelming. They had words of encouragement.  They were beacons of hope in a sad, sad place.

In the brief moments when I stopped thinking of myself, I recognized that we were different because we were Christians. We had a hope for the future and we had a trust in God that others could not muster up on their own. And in the year of the crash, I decided how I wanted to live my life.  I would live as a Christian, not because my parents did, not because that’s how I was raised, but because I wanted to stand out as a light in dismal situations. I wanted my heart to carry the hope I saw my parents leading with. In the year of the crash, I saw the difference I had heard about my whole life.


is this the crash you told me about why they don't let civilians in the helicopter anymore? beautiful story as always, crissy.

I was sad to hear your story. But, I admire you for having that courage to stand up again and welcome the future with a strong heart and a clear mind. Thanks a lot for sharing your story, it's very inspirational to me. - Marla Ahlgrimm

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I love our world- the sights, noises, and flavors of it all. I've found the best way for me to make a difference globally is to be rooted and engaged in my community. Every day is 1 more adventure in loving God and loving my neighbor.