Day 1: The Hardest Story I Never Told

The night my brother died has a sort of gravitational pull in my life that I find difficult to explain. I don’t know if it was the violent nature of his death, or its suddenness, or if this is simply how survivors keep time. I am not sure, but I know that it is how I remember things, how I orient every memory. Everything that has happened in my life is somehow filed in my brain as either before, or after.

And so, though I always feel a little self-conscious about the redundancy of posting this same story, word for word, each year, I feel that I must. Because it is the beginning. It is how I have kept time for so long, and it is the moment that held such gravity for my family that all the other moments in my life have oriented themselves around it all on their own. It marks the end of my childhood and the beginning of my faith. It marks the start and finish of so many things that nothing I write this month would make a lick of sense if I didn’t start there. Again.

At Day 1. 

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I am going to tell you a story. 

I haven't done this before, told this story, so detailed and so publicly.  But, I am going to try something big this month, and I think I need to tell this story in order to do it well.  So, here goes nothin...

It was Halloween night many years ago, and my 17 year old brother, Adam H. Provencal, was driving home from the Regional Championship Soccer game.  He was a senior in high school and the captain of the soccer team, and this victory was worth celebrating, and it was news worth spreading for our small Michigan town.

When my brother (and his friend Mike) were driving home and passed some of their friends out playing some harmless Halloween pranks, it was the perfect time to spread the news.  So Adam pulled the car over and was telling his friends about the big victory.  I have no idea what my brother was thinking or feeling in that moment but, my guess, is freedom. I imagine a boy - crazy about sports, working so hard to maintain his 4.0 GPA in mostly advanced placement classes, editor-in-chief of the nationally recognized school paper, and all-around nice guy - and the pressure that that brings on a kid. I imagine him in this moment, and the hard work (for now) is done and has paid off with a regional championship.  And he's free.  He is young and free, and he wants to tell to his friends.

So, he pulls over and he and his friends are joking around and talking and hanging out, and they are young and free in this moment.

The whimsical youth of the moment ends when a homeowner comes out and is irate about the pranks and, though my brother had not been involved in them, he had the car and perhaps that made him seem to be the ringleader somehow.  I don't really know if that was why Adam felt the need to go to the door or not, but he did.  He decided he would walk up to the door, to apologize for being there and to offer to clean up the toilet paper in the yard, and he no longer felt young and free. He was probably terrified that he was going to get in trouble. So, he dutifully walked up to the man's door and knocked twice. 

The man did not open the door and hear him out, he did not yell at Adam to leave, he did not call the police. When my 17 year old brother knocked on the door that night to have a hard conversation, he had a baby face and scrawny limbs and braces in his mouth.  And when Adam knocked twice on that door, the man gave no warning before he pulled the trigger of his shotgun, sending one, single blast through the closed front door. 

One bullet.

One bullet changed many lives, some lives even devastated.  But only one life was ended.  My only brother, my parents' only son, my hero, my friend... the only person strong enough to jump on a trampoline with me on his shoulders, and the boy who led me to Christ, and taught me to dance like M.C. Hammer, and to be funny enough to joke my way out of trouble.  He was gone. 

His murderer was in and out of jail after two years, for a boy's life taken in a rage over some harmless pranks.

Needless to say, when October rolls around I get stuck.  It is almost like my body involuntarily braces for a trauma.  The crisp fall air, the smell of leaves and bonfires... they are all beautiful reminders of fall, and nightmarish triggers that put my physical and emotional self on high alert, tragedy-ready. 

So, here we are, heading into the 31 days of October, and I am 35 years old... Not only have I outlived my big brother, but I have now, officially, had twice as much time on this Earth as he did. I need to do something. I need to be productive and I need to spend these 31 days focusing outwardly, or I will implode with this seasonal misery and depression.  So, I accepted a challenge, a plan designed to get out of our own heads and focus on other people. 31 days of kindness toward others.

I want to commit myself to honor all the good Adam would have done to the glory of God if his life had not been cut short. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Well, here is my chance... 35 is pretty grown up, so here goes nothing. 

For Day One, I am sharing this story. I am rallying the people around me to participate, and I am bossing you into participating too. You're welcome. This is the fifth October, I have asked and encouraged whatever participation you can muster. Please like and share these blog posts to your Facebook pages, and why not tag everyone you know? (Unless you hate kindness.) Spread the word. Do any act of kindness you can, no matter how small. I truly believe that the things we do this month would be acts of kindness that Adam would have spent a lifetime doing. To follow along and contribute to our collective journey, please hashtag #AdamsActs in pictures and posts so we can all see how far reaching an impact our kindnesses can make. 

Each year #AdamsActs has grown exponentially and last year I was amazed at the impact it had on communities all over the world. My sincere prayer is that each small act of generosity, encouragement, compassion, thoughtfulness, and kindness will plant seeds of hope, love and healing in a world that could use a lot more of those things. Thank you for allowing me to share my family's story with you. If I can't spend my days watching my brother live out all the remarkable kindness that was in his heart, the next best thing is watching all of you do it in his memory.

 In memory of my favorite person in heaven, my big brother, and the super hero of his little sister's heart.

In memory of my favorite person in heaven, my big brother, and the super hero of his little sister's heart.