Monday, May 16, 2011
Brandywine Wallace Dedication Ceremony: May 13, 2011
What a tribute. What a community. What a lucky family we are to have our son honored in such a genuinely loving, celebratory way.
Last Friday, May 13th, the Brandywine Wallace Elementary School Principal Linda Leib, faculty and students, together with the Home and School Association, several talented community members, a number of compassionate families, and the efforts of several businesses within and beyond the community, dedicated a beautiful grove of five tall maple trees, a large kid-climb-able boulder, and a precious plaque with a poem we'd selected and an imprinted copy of the hand print that Aidan made during his first week of school in September while the class read and discussed Audrey Penn's The Kissing Hand. That's a long sentence, but it doesn't even begin to embody the magnitude of the generosity we've been granted in Aidan's memory. We are so, so, so incredibly grateful.
And Aidan was with us while we celebrated his spirit. It was weeks after choosing the boulder with Margaret O. and her husband, John, that we discovered an undeniable capital letter "A" imprinted in the rock's face-- perhaps the result of a dynamite blast by the housing developers who raked these large rocks out of the land, but certainly not an intentional detail. Months earlier, when Steve led me to the boulder field to point out which rocks he, Margaret, and John had tagged, I felt right away that this was our rock. It had red tones (red was Aidan's favorite color), plenty of mass for kids to climb upon, and that perfect letter "A" marking the side that would later be the front of the memorial. It was Aidan's way of saying, "Here I am! This one is me!"
And to our surprise, the boulder and trees were planted in the front of the school, prominently, atop a small hill coming up from Dilworth Road. When we took our family walk to go visit the grove last Tuesday night for the first time, we stood to read the plaque and realized, fittingly (thanks to Aidan), that the exact angle in which the boulder and plaque were placed allowed the viewer to overlook the park across the street. That park, which we fondly call the "Pajama Park," is an idyllic and peaceful span of spotless soccer fields, a playground, and a children's garden dedicated to community members who have gone before us. Our nickname for the park came about when we'd first considered buying our current house: I couldn't sleep the night after the open house because I felt we were on the verge of a major decision, and when the boys awoke early the next morning, I hoisted them into the car in their PJs to check out the neighborhood. When they spotted the tennis courts and new playground equipment at East Brandywine Park, I happily let them romp around that morning at 8am in their footies while I made a very short mental list of reasons not to move to this community. Very short.
So as the First Grade students sang, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (one of our family favorites) while a special 4th grader's gorgeous voice rang out over them and a very best friend of Aidan's shared her handwritten story of their friendship, and while we unfolded the exquisite quilt that Aidan's classmates had each contributed a square of memories to, we cried, and we smiled, and we remembered. To see the sadness in the faces of the young children who our son had befriended during his short little life was heartwrenching; yet, given the circumstances about death being final and life having to go on regardless, these children were led by their teachers and parents through a remembrance that will not be forgotten, to then a celebration that will live in their minds for a long time to come...
Enter Philadelphia's favorite green furball, the Phillie Phanatic. With our favorite phive-year-old, the Devinator...
There was cheering! There was clapping! There was a bit of confusion as he tried to step with his size 19 feet down the tiny stage steps, but a few graceful tumbles later, the Phanatic was able to lead the crowd in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame,"-- the irony was not lost on Steve or I that that was the last song we sang to the boys each night before bed. And still more surprises...
The lights dimmed. The video screen lit up. And Ryan Howard's face appeared. Aidan's favorite Phillie, aka "The Big Guy." Aidan would beg us to forgo the bedtime story ritual so that he could watch the first two or three innings of the Phillies just to see this gentle giant step up to bat. A soft voice started, telling us:
Wait...it gets better! For Steve, an autographed RH jersey with a handwritten note reiterating the dedication of that night's game to Aidan:
More on that Friday night's game in the next post...
As all good parties eventually must end, the Phanatic disappeared behind the stage curtains while the first few classes were led out of the gym. I was so happy to see some of Aidan's best buds (mostly girls :) and thrilled that they let me give them big hugs. And then someone nearby said, "That Devin!" I looked up toward the stage to find my unabashed middle son taking the floor, holding his hands Nixon-like and air-high-fiving the fourth and fifth graders that were waiting for their turn to leave the gym. In no time, they were on their feet, cheering, rushing the stage and... really??!! chanting "Devin! Devin! Devin!"
Hoo, boy, will he be disappointed when Kindergarten isn't quite all that!!!
When the paparazzi left, we snapped a family photo of us with the big green fluffy guy:
And we knew, much as we felt the void of our Aidan's physical presence, that he was smiling on us, and on all at BW, because he was the reason for our phantastic celebration. And for Devin's new rock star status.
Thank you, a million times over, to the amazingly kindhearted, thoughtful, dedicated people who made this day happen. The grove will serve as a permanent reminder to all that a happy little guy once existed on this earth and made us all a little lighter; and now, his lifting spirit accompanies us everywhere, and forever, as embodied in the five beautiful soon-to-be shady climbing trees, and in the permanence of the red 'A'-riveted rock that lies in the center. To say that we're 'grateful' just doesn't do it. In order to fully express the gratitude we feel, if I could, I would reach under my breastbone to tear off a portion of my heart and hand a pinch of it off to each and every person who was a part of this process.
Because, in a nutshell, BW community, you gave us a part of our son back. Aidan is there, overlooking the Pajama Park, ushering his brothers and his buddies up into the school driveway, the sanctuary that is the heart of the East Brandywine community, forever.
THANK YOU, all of you. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, and THANK YOU again and again and again and again.