I hadn’t planned on writing this week, with it being Thanksgiving and all. But, last week showed me how much I have to be thankful for and I wanted to encourage you to slow down and take a pause this week and truly reflect on what you have to be thankful for. I think that we have a tendency to rush through Thanksgiving on our way into Christmas. And after all we’ve been through with this pandemic, who can blame us?
But, as Dabo Swinney likes to say, “The days may be long, but the years are short.” I had a friend from high school pass away last week. He won’t be having Thanksgiving with his family this year. His years were short.
Zach Alford was more than just a friend from high school. His grandfather was a farmer and sat two pews in front of us in church. The spring of my sophomore year in high school, Mr. Kenny needed some help getting his plants in the ground. He had grown all types of peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes from seeds in a greenhouse and it was time to get them in the field. I helped out that spring break and met Zach and his neighbor, Jai. That summer, I would ride my bicycle to Mr. Kenny’s packing shed and we worked the fields cutting zucchini, yellow squash, digging potatoes, picking okra, and all of those peppers and eggplant.
I spent three summers working on that farm. And Zach, Jai and I spent much of our time off of the farm together too. We fished together, we hunted together, we snuck into adult establishments that we weren’t supposed to be at to play pool (Zach was one of the best pool players I’ve ever seen). The Schneider family became my second family for those two and a half years.
Zach was three years younger than me, but you’d never know it. He was what I’ve come to recognize as an old, restless soul. He was mature beyond his years, but was never satisfied. He always wanted to go and to do. He could operate machinery like he played pool. Whatever you handed him, or put him in the seat of, he’d have it mastered in a matter of minutes, rather than weeks and months. But, he had a short fuse. His hot head and hair trigger temper kept Zach in trouble.
I’d lost touch with him when I went to college. I’d see his family at church on holidays, but rarely saw him. At Mr. Kenny’s funeral in 2012 we talked briefly, but there was so much going on for the family, we left it with the typical, “we’ll catch up soon”. We had reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. Zach seemed to have finally gotten some things going for him. He had his own tree service, and became passionate about going to help when hurricanes hit either along the east coast or the gulf. He recently got engaged.
Then, two Saturdays ago, he had a blistering headache and was having blurry vision. Zach had been diagnosed with high blood pressure years ago. But, he hadn’t been going to the doctor and staying on top of his health issues. He was rushed to hospital and taken back for emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain from a brain bleed. His high blood pressure took its toll. He fought for four days. By Wednesday, the family knew what they needed to do. Zach now has the peace that he could never find here on earth. He was 42 and leaves two children, a fiancé, and a lot of family and friends.
I’m not sharing this to be sad going into Thanksgiving. Rather, I want to be just the opposite. I want to be encouraging. I want to encourage you to hug your family for a few seconds longer. I want to encourage you to listen to that one family member that annoys you so much and never shuts up. I want to encourage you ask a few more questions at the dinner table. I want to encourage you to call that one friend that you’ve been meaning to call for months now.
We all have so much to be thankful for. Unfortunately, I’m afraid we take it for granted until it’s too late.
I know that the holiday season can be especially hard for some folks, especially those who have recently lost a loved one, or those dealing with job losses, or many other issues raised due to this pandemic. If you’re one of those, I want to encourage you to reach out to someone and let them know that you’re struggling. It’s okay to admit it, because we all go through times of struggle.
If you have been blessed this year and will be celebrating this week, I’d suggest looking around for those who may be struggling. Reach out to them. Let them know that you care about them. Help them see that there are blessings to be thankful for, even when it doesn’t seem so.
For me, this past weekend was a perfect example of the juxtaposition of struggles and blessings. While I was devastated by the loss of Zach, the family also had the chance to take the camper up to Clemson and the kids got to go to their first Clemson football game. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share that wonderful part of my life with the kids and to see their joy in the same things that have brought me so much joy over the years.
Another friend from high school had reserved “buddy” sites at the new campground just outside of Clemson for the weekend. He invited me and the family to come and share the other site. John was another friend that I had kind of lost touch with over the years, although we have seen each other and talked more than I had Zach. His children and mine hit it off on Friday night when we arrived.
Since the game was a noon kickoff, we got up and caught the shuttle to the stadium pretty early on Saturday. We were able to walk downtown and do a little shopping at Judge Kellers and The Tiger Sport Shop, just like when I was a kid. We got to our seats in time to watch the team run down the hill and take in all of the pageantry of Clemson football. The atmosphere was electric. And, the game couldn’t have been better. To my surprise, the kids made it through the entire game. They brought back the tradition of gathering on the field afterwards and we even got to do that.
By the time we got back to the campground, the sun had set. I expected everyone to be wiped out. But, no no. The kids stayed up and played. The adults played musical bingo and we had a great time telling stories of our youth.
On our way home, we made a side trip to see Zach’s family for his visitation. I think it’s just how life works. It’s never all good, just as it’s never all bad. I’m going to be focusing on the good this Thanksgiving and I encourage you to do the same.
I’m thankful for my family, my business, my clients, my friends, and that God sent his Son to save us. I’m thankful for the time I got to spend with Zach and John. I’m thankful to be an American. Frankly, I’m thankful that you read this far. May you have a Happy Thanksgiving and joyous holiday season!