Each year, when October rolls around I get stuck. It is almost like my body - my soul - involuntarily braces itself for trauma. The crisp fall air, the smell of leaves and bonfires... they are all beautiful, nostalgic reminders of fall, and also nightmarish triggers that put my physical and emotional self on high alert, tragedy-ready. The grief that October holds for my family has always had a sort of gravitational pull on me. That one fateful night in October is how I mark time.
There is life before, and then there is after.
When I was invited to participate in a kindness challenge several Octobers ago, I agreed in hopes that I could use kindness as a way to process through the loads of unresolved grief I had been carrying since my childhood. Never in a million years did I think that thousands of participants would ultimately join in spreading kindness in memory of a boy that very few had the privilege of knowing. So each year, I do this again. I tell the story of the night that changed everything. Each year I edit it a bit, and I try to change things a little… but the sad reality is that although that night changed everything… the story itself does not ever change. I cannot edit a better ending for Adam. It wouldn’t be honest, or real. So, here is that story, virtually word-for-word, as the first time I hesitantly shared it with the world.
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 big news worth spreading for our small, West Michigan town. When my brother (and his friend Mike) were driving home, they passed some of their friends out playing some harmless Halloween pranks and it seemed the perfect time to spread the news. So Adam pulled the car over and began regaling the details of their night, of his team and their victory.
I have no idea what my brother was thinking or feeling in that moment but, my guess, is freedom. I imagine a boy - a sweet 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 I imagine 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 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 and unburdened in this one, pure moment.
The whimsical, carefree youth of the moment ended when a homeowner came out and was irate to discover toilet paper in his trees and the saran wrap on his car. Though my brother had not been personally involved in executing these pranks, he had the car and perhaps that made him appear to be the ringleader. This man, carrying a canoe paddle, yelled and threatened to call the police and then took down my brother’s license plate number. 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 home, to apologize for being there: wrong place, wrong time. He planned to clear his name and offer to clean up the yard, and to be certain… he no longer felt young and free. He was likely 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 make good on his threat to 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 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 a great faith adventure with Jesus, and taught me to dance like M.C. Hammer, and how to be funny enough to joke my way out of trouble. He was gone.
His murderer was in and out of jail after only two years. Two years. For a boy's life taken in a rage over a harmless prank. The senselessness of my brother’s death, the injustice, the lack of resolve… these are the things that haunted me each October. As I grew up and became a mother to my five little crazies, I was no longer satisfied to keep all of my little girl grief locked away inside me. I needed to do something. I had to be productive and focus outward or I would implode with this seasonal grief and cyclical depression. I wanted to commit myself to honor all the good Adam would have done to the glory of God if he had been given that opportunity. Thousands of readers now participate each October in an initiative we call #AdamsActs, because these are the types of kind acts we believe Adam would have spent his life bestowing upon others had his life not been tragically cut short. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Well, here is my chance... 38 is pretty grown up, so here goes nothing.
I cannot change the outcome of Adam’s story. I cannot edit out the pain or the deep grief of such a heartbreaking ending. But I am not powerless, so I get to change the outcome of my own story. I get to choose how to respond to the greatest loss of my life. THAT is a story that I do get to write.
And If I can’t change Adam’s story, I might as well try to change the world. One act of kindness at a time.
My #AdamsAct for Day One is sharing this story with you all. And asking you to share it as well. I am rallying the people around me to participate, and while I am an absolute pleasure… I’m also a little feisty, so I am bossing YOU into participating too. You’re welcome. I will blog and podcast throughout each week of October so be sure to check back here and also check out THIS PODCAST EPISODE if you would like to take a deeper dive into all my baggage and hear more about the night that Adam was killed and some of my journey since.
The greatest kindness you can do for me and my family is to like and share the blog posts and podcasts to your social media, and why not challenge everyone you know? (Unless you hate kindness.) Spread the word. Do any act of kindness you can, no matter how small. To follow along and contribute to our collective journey, please use the hashtag #AdamsActs in pictures and posts so we can all see how far reaching an impact our kindnesses can make. Each year we gain thousands of new readers and I believe that this year is going to blow our minds. I want you to be a part of it.
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.