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 bullet through the 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 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 31 years old... outliving my big brother by 14 years. 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 my seasonal misery and depression. So, I accepted an invitation from two beloved friends, a plan designed to get out of our own heads and focus on other people. 31 days of kindness toward others.
Day One: a total bust. I woke up with two fractured hips and a migraine. Welcome to October. Okay, not real fractures... but, something in my back is out of whack and my hip is paying the price. I did not leave the couch today except to go to my first round of physical therapy with my friend Marci who braved the battlefield of bad insurance companies that (I am certain) is run out of a basement in Philly. There is no actual coverage happening. We are always billed. Nothing is ever actually IN network. But, she got me pre-approved and she zapped my hip with a buzzing thing. So, my first chance to randomly act kind toward a person in the outside world, was to give her a headband... my only current useful skill is making accessories, so I acted at random with as much kindness as my old hips could muster. I think she liked it.
I have no idea what this 31 day challenge is going to teach me. And I have very little faith in my ability to stick with this. So, this is me going on public record promising to let these next 31 days not be all about me, and all about memories and sadness and lost life. Rather, I want to commit myself to honor all the good Adam would have done if his life had not been cut short. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. Well, here is my chance... 31 is pretty grown up, so here goes nothing.