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On Adrian Peterson and measuring loss

Oct 12, 2013
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I lost my dad when I was 17. It’s not something I enjoy talking about publicly, so I don’t bring it up a lot. It’s something I felt important to share with you today.

I know what loss feels like. For 17 years, I lived with the best dad I could imagine. I’ve had to live without him for the last 17 years.

One of the specific and interesting things about losing my dad how I did was watching it affect different people differently. I lost a father–as did my siblings, though at varying ages and stages of development. My mom lost a husband of 25 years. My uncle lost a brother. The community lost a leader. Close friends of the family lost a friend, some a best friend.

And my grandparents lost a son.

There aren’t enough words in this post to tell you how hard the last 17 years have been. I still miss him, and think about him far more often than most of you might think. Sometimes I feel like it’s 17 years ago.

I say all this just to say . . . of all the emotional turbulence I’ve gone through these last 17 years . . . of all the emotional turbulence I’ve watched my sister or my mom go through these last 17 years . . . There’s not a doubt in my mind, that no one had it worse this whole time than my grandparents. After all, my grandparents lost a son.

From the age of 17, depressed and lost after losing my own dad, I’ve always believed that the single worst thing that can happen in life is burying one of your own kids.

When you marry someone, you know at some point that one of you will bury the other. As kids of parents, we know someday we’ll have to bury them. But as a parent, you never think you’ll bury your kid. Your kids are supposed to outlast you.

I think that’s part of what makes burying a kid so horrible–the unexpected tragedy of it. The loss of innocence. The loss of unlimited potential.

We like to measure death, just as we measure people.

If a homeless person dies, no one notices.

An earthquake in China kills 1,000? Barely makes the news in America.

We’ve all heard about the nearly 5,000 U.S. lives ended in the Iraqi conflict that has spanned the last nine years. Our hearts weep for those 5,000 young men and women. I note, however, very few people talk about the Iraqi civilians who died in this conflict for no other reason than having the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths have been confirmed and identified. Again, those are innocent bystanders to a war they neither started, nor took part in. Some very reasonable and informed estimates put that number over 600,000, by the way. However, you’ll rarely hear talk about them. They are, after all, Iraqi and not American.

I’m not trying to be overly political by bringing all that up. I’m just pointing out that we measure death, just as we measure life. We all do it. I do it.

Adrian Peterson’s son died Friday afternoon in the most horrific way imaginable.

It’s tragic. My heart goes out to him, to the kid’s mother, and to the entire family.

I can’t help but wonder how much we’d care about this event if Adrian Peterson sucked at football. Do you think Peyton Hillis’ two-year-old son dying would elicit this same response? What if it were Aaron Hernandez’s two-year-old son?

More importantly, though, what if it were yours?

Our hearts and prayers reach out to this kid’s mother, father, and entire family. However, let us not let our hearts rest there. Let us realize that plenty of people, in plenty of lands, are suffering through this exact same loss at this very specific moment.

Let us realize that child abuse, which led to this tragedy, is all too common in our lands.

While anger, a thirsting for blood, or even compassion for this one specific situation may tempt us all–let us instead rise to the occasion with the best of our humanity, and feel a call to action.

Do something tangible.

Go hug your kids. Tell them you love them. Remember that friend of yours who buried a kid last summer, or five years ago? Call them. Ask them how they are doing. Tell them you care about their grief and still think about their kid. You probably have no idea how much they’d appreciate that. Give money to any number of charities focusing on preventing child abuse.

In these situations, I always hope against hope that we feel more compassion than anger.

In this situation, though, I hope for even more. I hope that our compassion may not be limited to one parent of one kid, but be extended out to the whole family who is now grieving, and be moved to our friends, our brothers and our sisters in life who are going through similar (if not identical) pains in silence and in agony.

Reach out to someone today. Show compassion to someone you know (or don’t.)

Matt Rittle is a contributor to Rotoviz. Follow him.