Number 13

A couple of weeks ago,a high school hockey team took to the ice to play a game.  They played hard.  And then, one of the players was checked, from behind, into the boards.

In his father's words, they "counted to five, like you always, do.  But he didn't get up."  Jack Jablonski, a 16 year old sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, didn't get up.

I'll admit it right here:  when the first news stories reported this, I didn't stop to think about it much longer than a few seconds.  I was caught up in my own "stuff", like usual, and so I saw this kid's beautiful smiling face flash by on the screen, along with some words about "hockey tragedy" and I didn't really think much more about it.

I feel bad about that.  Because the next day, I thought about it, long and hard.  Friends of mine who know this young man were posting on facebook about it, and so I read more.  I read the news articles that described this boy in greater detail, that described what happened to him.  They described how he was now lying in a hospital bed with a halo attached to his head, awaiting surgery on his spine.

Awaiting word about whether or not he'll walk again.

And as I read more, I cared more.  I watched YouTube videos made for this boy, videos that showed a toddler Jack, an elementary school Jack, a handsome manchild Jack dressed in his hockey gear.  I watched, and I cried.

My kid plays hockey.  And as I watched the montage of Jack's life unfolding in front of me, I couldn't help but picture my own boy, my William, in the same snapshots.  I thought of the pictures I have of him, as an angel cheeked little toddler, of him standing next to his kindergarten teacher, of him presenting his Culture Box in 4th grade.  And I pictured him in his hockey gear, mouth guard clenched between his teeth, sweet blue eyes peeking out from beneath his helmet.

I felt, for just a second, a brief snippet of time, a little bit of what Jack's parents might have been feeling when their boy was injured.  I thought about those awful five seconds you count, sure that the kid will get up to some weak claps from the crowd, a few backslaps from his teammates...and imagined how it must have felt when their baby, their Jack, their sweet 16 year old boy, didn't get up.

It felt pretty awful.  And I imagined that feeling multiplied by a thousand, by a million, by infinity.

And that's how Jack's mom and dad, and Jack's little brother, must have felt.  I can't fathom it.  I don't want to know it.

But this I know:  He's a pretty remarkable kid.  Remarkable in his normalcy.  Remarkable in the resemblance he bears to so many other kids around his age.  That tall, skinny, good looking mix of innocence and impending adulthood and goofy teenager.  The more I read about him, the more I learned about him, the more it sunk in that this could be one of my sons, one of my neighbor boys, one of the gangly boys in the halls of the high school.  He could be any one of our kids.

So I decided to pray.  I prayed for him right then, and I've prayed for him every day, several times a day, ever since.  And while I was offering up my lukewarm half-Lutheran/half-nothing prayers to that kid, I offered them up to all the other kids out there who are facing challenges just like Jack.  I joined the facebook groups, I changed my facebook picture to the jersey bearing Jack's number and name, and I continued to read about his progress.

I read about how Jack, from his hospital bed, wanted to relay a message to the boys who checked him...that he wasn't mad.  I read the story about the day one of those boys went to the hospital and asked Jack for forgiveness.  And about how Jack comforted this kid.  From his hospital bed.  

I wept with the rest of my community when, after surgery, the doctors said Jack wouldn't have movement below his neck, ever again. How does God do this, how does this happen during a simple hockey game?  A game that thousands of kids play every single day...a game my own son plays, with an enthusiasm I wish I could bottle and sell at Walgreens or Target.

But then, I thought of countless other kids, not unlike Jack, who have been placed in front of seemingly impossible hurdles, and how they've dealt with, and faced those challenges with a grace and strength that I doubt people twice their age could muster.  Other kids have made it over these bumps in the road.  Some of them bear the scars from these battles, some are seemingly unscathed.  But they've come through.

And then...there was good news.  Jack moved his arms.  And I swear, you could hear the roar of cheers and cries across our little city.  His doctors said he wouldn't move again.

But he moved his arms.

Jack is already beating the odds, like an army of kids before him.  He's making progress he wasn't supposed to be making.

Will he skate again?  Walk again?  Dance with a girl again?

I don't know.  Nobody can know that right now.  But this I do know:  there is power behind all of these prayers, all of this goodwill.  All of this SUPPORT.  I know the doctors and scientists would disagree with me, and say that this was just a fluke, a random, one time victory.

But, I don't care what the experts say.  Jack doesn't care, and his parents don't care, and the thousands of people who are rooting for this kid don't care what logic or experts tell us what will or won't happen.

Because miracles happen every day.

Jack Jablonski borrowed this beautiful quote for his 8th grade yearbook:

"I don't believe in miracles.  I rely on them."

We all do, Jack.

Friends...if you believe in prayers, or sending good vibes or even just holding someone's name near your heart and thinking good, healing thought about them, please do me a favor and keep this kid (and the boys who checked him, because this was an accident that could have happened to anyone) close over the next few days and months:

Jack Jablonski, number 13.  In our hearts.

1 comment:

  1. Jack and his family and friends will be in my prayers. Great story! :)


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