A different shade of Blue(s)… or how two victory parades will always represent life and death…and life, to me and my bride.
St. Louisans had a historic moment to share when the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup on Wednesday, June 12. Without telling my own version of a similar story told by so many about that night, about how my family screamed and shouted, how over the past many months my wife became a hockey fan and fell in love with the boys in blue and can explain the “forecheck” better than most, I’ll simply say one thing we knew was that we were going to the victory parade.
The last time we went to a victory parade of this stature was when the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. That was a life-changing time for us and not because of the World Series. Let’s do a quick recap….
Thursday, October 27th, 2011: Game 6 – The David Freese Game – I will always remember Nikki buckling at the knees when Freese hit THE triple. So great.
Friday, October 28th, 2011: Game 7 – The Cardinals win the series – Almost anti-climactic. You just knew after Game 6 they were going to win it.
Sunday, October 30th, 2011: St. Louis Cardinals World Series Victory Parade – It was a great St. Louis moment for us. A great, great memory.
But it was secondary. It paled in comparison. The St. Louis Cardinals, the atmosphere, the excitement of being in the middle of such a great celebration really didn’t mean all that much to us…comparatively speaking.
Oh wait…I missed a day. What in the world happened on Saturday, October 29th that made those other three days look so insignificant? Let’s fill in the blank.
Thursday, October 27th, 2011: Game 6 – The David Freese Game
Friday, October 28th, 2011: Game 7 – The Cardinals win the series
Saturday, October 29th, 2011: The pregnancy test revealed a “+” sign.
Sunday, October 30th, 2011: St. Louis Cardinals World Series Victory Parade
We’ll always remember those four days. To feel so alive for what was to come, enjoying the parade and the excitement of the city, thinking really hard for the first time in my life… “how in the world does one actually change a diaper?!” So many mixed emotions.
Like so many in St. Louis, a large number of my childhood memories are tied up in the St. Louis Cardinals.
Listening to Jack Buck and Mike Shannon calling the games on the radio as the sun went down on yet another of so many summer nights as a kid. Not understanding why Shannon’s voice got all slurry as the game went on. Dad letting us stay up just a bit later to listen on the radio. Going to games with him and hoping he’d buy me a hot dog. 5th row behind the visitor’s dugout. Company tickets. The time he caught a foul ball.
And as I type I’m getting such a rush of nostalgia and wishing I could go to another game with him and chat about everything. Or not say a word. Just be there with him not thinking about the things that clog the mind. Just be.
Those four days will be about David Freese, the championship, the parade, YES!, and it doesn’t diminish the enjoyment of that time, but it will truly be about the moment within those days that we found out we were bringing another life into this world.
So now here we are. Over 7 ½ years later. The St. Louis Blues have won the Stanley Cup!!! Woohoooooo!!!
As a kid, the first time I ever stayed out later than the single digits on the clock was to go to a Blues game with my best friend from childhood. (For all you hockey-heads, he lived next door to Mike Liut and I got to swim in the Liut’s pool as a kid. I thought it was the greatest thing ever.) Stayed up until 11:30 p.m. after the game. I was such a wild man!
I remember our family going to the mall during a Blues playoff game against the Calgary Flames in 1986. My dad said he wanted to go to J.C. Penney. So off I went with my brothers to see the reason. He took us to the t.v. section… so he could watch the game. When Calgary scored a dagger of a goal, Dad just quietly walked away.
Like so many I’ve watched hundreds of games over the years and I have my list of “time and place” of multiple moments of playoff heartbreak the team has wrought to my guts, but I also know I have those in my life who are absolutely fanatical in the best way possible in their devotion to the sweater that transcends shear fandom. Nothing but good vibes for every single one of ’em.
But I digress….
We attended the parade, another victory parade, but this time we were accompanied by that precious life we found out about 7 ½ years ago.
I don’t know when it hit me, but when they announced the date of the parade, June 15th, I had mixed emotions. If the Cardinals parade will always remind me of a life beginning, this Blues parade had the chance of always reminding me of a life’s end.
Let me explain…
Wednesday, June 12th, 2019: The St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup!!! – Watched and celebrated with my wife, my daughter, my brother and his family. Like so many, my voice was toast for days. Lifelong memory made and saved into the brain computer.
Thursday, June 13th, 2019: Postgame recovery! – Trying to sleep, reading anything and everything. Eating up the sight of St. Louis buzzing, even for just a few days. No sarcasm. We’ll take any and all positivity.
Friday, June 14th, 2019: Planning my mode of attack in navigating downtown.
Saturday, June 15th, 2019: St. Louis Blues Victory Parade!!
June 15th, 2017: James Cleon Akridge exited this world (4:25 a.m.)
June 15th, 2017: James Cleon Akridge entered the Next World (4:25.000000001 a.m.)
June 15th, 1939: James Cleon Akridge entered this world
(Almost makes me nervous for June 15th, 2020. If you can’t find me, I’ll be in a corner somewhere listening to Pink Floyd trying to keep my mind occupied.)
So we celebrated a Blues victory, soaked in the positive vibes of the city we love so much, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about someone else a bit. Stanley Cup parade, my dad’s would-be 80th birthday, marking 2 years since he moved on to Heaven, being with my daughter thinking about the parade in 2011, etc.
After the parade, the family met at White Castle to remember one of Dad’s favorite past times… eating White Castle in the parking lot. As we were outside eating our gourmet feast, people were yelling at us from their cars, “Let’s Go Blues!”
When I think of that particular morning of June 15, 2017….
It feels like it happened many years ago and yet it feels like it happened last week. Like a dusty memory that was created just days ago.
When I think about the day he died, I think less about what I was feeling and experiencing and more about how those feelings and experiences were the complete opposite of what my dad felt and experienced. On that day he truly felt life for the first time. He truly breathed for the first time. He could truly see for the first time. He could truly hear for the first time.
For a man who had such a beautiful voice, I feel a real curious excitement when I think of the first sound that he heard. Nikki wondered, as my dad entered heaven… was Jesus waiting for him with a birthday cake, a party hat, Dad’s friends and family who had gone before, and billions of his new closest friends? Jesus is the source of all joy. Who knows? I love the thought…
Being alone by his side the moment of his death I experienced a draining and an emptying of something I couldn’t quite explain, but it was quickly replaced with a realization, a reminder of a Truth that I knew deep down that began to bubble up. Almost as soon as grief entered in, the recovery process began.
While in that same moment he was experiencing not an emptying but an immediate filling up, a fullness that needed no explanation of something he completely believed but had never seen… and now was fully realized. A complete understanding of “what it all means” and an eternal peace that fully enveloped his being, accompanied with the realization that this “peace that passes all understanding” would never leave.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever and ever.” Psalm 73:26
It’s not worthy of a repeat telling but to say, Nikki and I were crushed by a life event less than two weeks before Dad left this dirt, a pain that left some scars, but…
Dad would be so satisfied for us now.
We have found a school that has been so good for his “little darlin’” and our hearts, and we have found a church that has been so good for our family and our souls.
When Dad moved on, God provided a warm blanket of recovery that He has slowly continued to wrap around us by His grace, by His people.
We still feel as if we’re in recovery. Myself a bit more than Nikki. Still feel a bit adrift. Like we haven’t quite made it back to shore.
Maybe we never will?
Maybe instead of a slow return, a slow recovery to where we were emotionally, mentally, spiritually, we’ve been permanently bumped off course….and that’s exactly how God planned it.
Paul lived with a thorn, Esther dealt with loss, Peter dealt with shame and regret, Jacob left with a limp, so many examples, and as believers we are susceptible to our own temporal “injuries” and pain in order to push us further into making an eternal impact. God is in control. He….wastes….nothing. Pain is a part of this journey. But so is Hope. “Here I am, send me.”
And as for grief…like it does for those who have lost a loved one…it fluctuates. You’ll go days feeling fine, and then see the most random thing on a random street and it’ll bring back a memory from childhood and grief will sucker punch you in the middle of eating a bean burrito. Grief can be a sneaky little punk. “C’mon Mr. Grief! Just let me eat my burrito!!”
But regardless of grief, regardless of its level, there are lives to love.
There are lives to get into and people who are hurting who need encouragement. Like Jesse Ventura said in that classic Shakespearean level film that’s a favorite among the theatre elites… Predator…. “I ain’t got time to bleed.” So you press on in as little of your own strength as your temporal self will allow and you get out there and impact eternity.
As I get older and think more frequently about my own mortality, I care less and less about the things of this world. I wholeheartedly acknowledge it’s easy for me to say this when I know there will be food on the table tonight, a roof over our heads, and clothes to keep us warm. I acknowledge this fact.
But my caring less and less about the things of this world doesn’t come from a bad place, it simply comes from an eternal one.
This world just doesn’t satisfy, and those who say it does make me nervous.
Not that I don’t find enjoyment from it, I do, and not that I think finding enjoyment from it is bad, I don’t, but I simply don’t find lasting fulfillment in it apart from what is eternal.
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14
Maybe that’s why Dad always seemed so calm when I was a kid. So at peace. He knew this life wasn’t the end and he lived like it. I know he wasn’t a machine. He was human. He was a man. He had real, legit hardships. He had hopes and dreams that were dashed. But above all that, he just seemed at ease with this life. Almost a detached whimsy? That’s why in the end he never seemed to let things ruin him during the years I was growing up in his home like I saw in some of the homes of my friends.
But as he got older, I noticed he became more easily emotional, he worried a bit more (or simply showed it more), his body failed him, and it always reminded me of Ecclesiastes 12 when the Bible speaks of this world slowly taking away certain enjoyment, taking its toll in the later years of life and how it can “draw the shades a bit more on the world” for various reasons as you grow old.
I don’t blame him. I have no negative thoughts about this “change” as he got older. I think for those who believe, your spirit simply longs for heaven. This life can be tiring. And even though we know we are here for a reason, a divine Purpose that never moves us to bow out, our spirit desires that eternal rest that only a Home going can bring….and that’s not a bad thing.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
But in the end, it’s God’s timing for eternal rest. He doesn’t just have a purpose for us while we are here. He is Purpose. Both now, and into eternity. Knowing it, living it, can bring a taste of that eternal peace into our temporal hearts on this side of heaven. And praise be to God for that. That’s a victory worth celebrating!
Lastly, I wrote and recorded a couple of short and simple instrumental songs on the piano shortly after he went Home. My dad loved music so much as do I, it just seemed right to try and express what was going on in my mind through song.
The first is called “James” and the second “When He Turns Us Golden” (Job 23:10), and both were written as I was thinking about him during his time as my earthly father and as my eternal spiritual brother who I knew, but will one day know eternally better. Instead of words, I used keys on a piano to describe my thoughts at the time.
“When He Turns Us Golden”
I still think about dad most days. And I won’t say I think about him less and less, but I do think about his earthly self less and less and think about his existence in heaven more and more. My dad is eternally alive so I prefer to think about him full of life, which he very much is, and not just the Polaroids of the mind of the part of him I interacted with, who completed this journey here on earth.
“And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:26
I look forward to seeing my Savior. I look forward to seeing my dad. And I can’t imagine the parade that will happen on that day when the Lord brings all of His children Home.
“And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4