Last weekend the boys’ dad got remarried. Tuesday was their first night in a home with a new family unit. All of this weighed on me heavily. During a divorce, the constant worry that your children will be okay is at the forefront of every thought.
Since my mom passed away almost three years ago I feel like I’ve been adjusting to one new normal after another.
All of this was on my mind until Wednesday, when my thoughts shifted.
Wednesday morning I was attending a local Chamber of Commerce breakfast. While absent-mindedly pouring coffee, my boss at the newspaper walked over and told me someone from our community had been killed in Tuesday night’s school shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
When he told me the student’s name, my heart stopped.
His name is Riley Howell. He was one of my students when I taught seventh grade at our local middle school. I don’t remember every student I taught, but I remember Riley. He had a charisma about him. Tall and lanky with wild, wavy bright blonde hair, he stood out.
And not only was he a cute kid, but he was bright, witty and most importantly, kind to his classmates. In fact, he was a peer helper in our school’s severe and profound handicapped class. Each day, Riley helped those kids and brightened their day with his smile. I remember hoping my own little blond, curly-headed boy would grow up and be like Riley.
So, it wasn’t surprising to learn later on Wednesday that Riley had tackled the UNCC gunman, buying law enforcement valuable time to apprehend the assailant. Riley saved countless others in a true act of heroism. I love this piece by Chis Cuomo. It perfectly demonstrates the kind of person Riley was.
Riley was also the oldest of four kids. Last night I watched a video of the three younger siblings. They look utterly heartbroken, shaken to the core, perhaps the first time the’d sat in a row of three without their big brother at the helm.
I read that his little brother, Teddy, age 14, said that Riley may now be a hero to the world, but he’d always been a hero to him.
I can’t stop thinking about his sweet mom who was a colleague of mine at the same school where Riley was a student. I keep thinking of his girlfriend of five years and the rest of his family who will have to endure life without him.
The situation at UNCC angers me, as do all of these random shootings. It’s disgusting to watch one deranged person ruin the lives and crush the hearts of so many.
Riley’s actions have inspired me to liver better, kinder, fuller, to truly look at each day as a precious gift, as something to take on with complete love and gratitude.
There’s a Buddhist quote that says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” My mom’s death, Riley’s death and other events in my life have shown me that time and people are our most precious gifts.
Please pray for Riley’s family, friends and community during this time. And please, be grateful, hold tight to the ones you love and pay attention to those small moments that make life so very special.