Thursday, May 21, 2015

Byron's Fist Bump: A Tribute to the Bellarmine Community

One of my favorite gestures in sports and in life is the fist bump. A good one is both spontaneous and simple.What is says, even without words is just enough: we are connected to one another. It's a relatively safe gesture. As a friend recently reminded me, not all people are comfortable extending or accepting a hug; it can be too intimate. Indeed there are many types of hugs: strong ones, bro hugs, and loving, caring ones. Some folks "squeeze the Charmin" a little too long. The fist bump is so much less political? complicated? It is what it is...and I love it.

Thanks to a boy who lived all of eight days, I came to understand that the fist bump is perhaps the most natural and human of our abilities. How's that? The story "Byron's Fist Bump" captures how this gesture was an ability of a boy just three days old. It was a gift to his big brother, Tommy. To learn that story, please view the video below.
Unfortunately, the Elrod family isn't the only one to know what it means to lose a child to brain cancer. This past year, Bellarmine College Prep, our brother school just 45 miles south on the West Catholic Athletic League Highway lost three members to it. 

Bellarmine, an all-boys Catholic school in San Jose is home to 1600 students. Like us, they have offered a Jesuit secondary education in the Bay Area for over 150 years. Many of my colleagues have taught at both schools. Although rivals on the sports fields, many of us find deep friendships in the other's community.
I'll never forget this game. The Bells made it happen
And so it was natural for us to learn about what they have carried in their hearts this Spring. Our principal shared their principal's prayer request with us. He wrote: 
I’m very sorry to be writing you to let you know that one of our students, junior Milan passed away early this morning (pronounced MILL-in).  
Milan is the third community member we have lost in the past 3 ½ months to brain cancer. We will have a prayer service first thing Monday with Milan’s classmates.  There will be a service for him at the Stanford Chapel in a week or two. Ironically, Milan’s dad is the Head of Radiology at Stanford Hospital.   
While I think we all are hanging in there, these are certainly challenging days. We have known through this past week that the end was near for Milan, but of course we also held out hope. Thank you in advance for your prayers for our community, and particularly for Milan’s mom and dad. 
At times, I have found this tragedy astounding and confounding. It's too much. The only thing I knew to do was what their principal asked of us. I have offered prayers for the faculty and staff at Bellarmine every day at the beginning of class. My students did too. So much so that one day after class one of my students approached me to ask if we could somehow have a joint mass with Bellarmine. We too had a recent tragedy and she wanted us to come together as one. We knew it would logistically be very difficult, but I love that she thought we should gather at the Eucharistic table to share and remember.
As written on by a friend at St. Joe's Prep in Philly
We grieve with our Jesuit Brothers from Bellarmine Prep over the loss of junior Milan Gambhir.
In all of my years of teaching, we have lost students and parents—but I have never lost a colleague...let alone one who is a father of two young children, a husband to another teacher, an alum, and friend. Mikael Meyer was and is all of those things.

Mike was a gentle giant. Although I did not know him well, I knew that he would have easily thrown out a fist bump to me. He was 37 years old.

Fortunately, the Elrod family offers us some beautiful insight on how to live the life we are given and the death they had to face. And it's even more than just a fist bump. 

Coach Elrod said, "we miss Bryon but there are a lot of  things we’ve learned." His wife adds "the blessings I have in my life are brighter now because of Byron. It’s all these things that were always there before, I just didn’t know how great they were. You can’t help but be happy when everything else is so amazing and it's because of that little boy." 

I hope the students and faculty of Bellarmine find bright blessings. I hope the families of those who lost loved one and the school community as a family is able to see what the Elrod family did and what they believe: "We are a family. It’s not how we thought it would be, but we’re still a family...a pretty cool family."

I'd like to believe the faculty and staff at St. Ignatius College Prep, extended family to Bellarmine offers a fist bump, prayers, and even hugs to their family—a pretty cool family— now and in the days to come.

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