My wife Tracey has a ceramic plaque in our kitchen that reminds us that “life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take, but rather by the moments that take our breath away.”
This morning, I’m of the mind we could append to that expression the phrase “or rip the heart right out of our chest.”
I hold many happy memories in my heart, but my life is punctuated as well by the memories of a shuttle explosion, a princess lost and twin towers that collapsed in piles of rubble.
This morning, like much of the nation I proudly call home, I’ll add to that list the day the Humboldt Broncos met with tragedy on a quiet Saskatchewan highway.
I know nothing of the 14 who lost their lives Friday evening. And yet I know them intimately. They are the same young men who this winter delivered excitement to the Sun Bowl Arena and brought sunshine off the ice through generous acts in their adopted home.
And they are coaches who give so much of their time to be part of a sport they love, to continue to give to the game even after their competitive playing days have long drawn to a close.
I wrote not long ago of the long hours and even longer miles junior hockey teams spend on the highway. During this season’s KIJHL semi-final, our hometown Coyotes travelled more than 1,900 km — the equivalent of a bus ride from Osoyoos to Winnipeg — over the course of nine days, spending a full 24 hours in a bus seat.
I can only expect that every other junior hockey team in the country endures a similar travel schedule, some with routine journeys likely even more extreme.
And so it should not come as a surprise — even if it is a horrific shock — that the odds eventually catch up to one of those teams, as they did Friday evening to the Humboldt Broncos.
As humans, it’s our character to attempt to make sense of the senseless, to grope for understanding. But, of course, that’s an impossibility and no matter how much we try to wrap our minds around an event, all we seem to be left with is inexplicable, devastating loss.
We try to fill that emptiness with an overwhelming desire to help, to provide assistance and care. Being two provinces away from where this tragedy has occurred, there’s little we can do to directly provide assistance.
But at home, in our community, among the young people we cherish, there is opportunity to find surrogacy and through them inspire and be inspired.
If you have a teenager in your home, hug her close to you today and whisper your affection even as she rebels. Smile at that stock boy busy at a grocery shelf and share a good afternoon with him.
Forgive the youngster who all but takes your feet out from under you as he speeds past on a skateboard.
Remember always that death is no respecter of persons.
As the publisher of a pair of newspaper in Southern Alberta so many years ago, I recall having to write the obituary for another young person — a promising athlete — struck down in the prime of her life.
I chose to end that obituary with a few lines from To An Athlete Dying Young, a poem by A.E. Housman. I’ll do so again this morning in tribute to the fallen Humboldt heroes.
The time you won your town the race, we chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by, and home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come, shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down, townsman of a stiller town.
May God take you into his care, my sons. Know that the community we call Canada universally mourns your loss and will remember forever the day your family, your friends and your hometown carry you home.