Carol K. Reese.
Born: November 9, 1955.
Died: April 5, 1973.
It was such a long time ago, and yet just a moment’s distance in my memory. We were just 17. That was the day the music died.
- an old round dance with singing,
- a song of joy or mirth <the carol of a bird — Lord Byron>
- a popular song or ballad of religious joyOrigin of Carol:
Middle English carole, from Anglo-French, modification of Late Latin choraula choral song, from Latin, choral accompanist, from Greek choraulēs, from choros chorus +aulein to play a reed instrument, from aulos, a reed instrument.
First Known Use: 14th century
Travel back to 1973 with me to Sunday, the last day of Spring Break our Junior year in high school. Carol had gone camping with my family at Canyon Dam, not far from San Marcos, Texas, where we lived. We came home from camping and hopped on our bikes to “cruise” out to Sonic, our high school hangout. Riding back up the steep hill to her house, she told me she felt tired. Carol was never tired. Never. She had boundless energy. The next day, she stayed home from school. A first for Carol, who had never missed a day of school in her whole life. I left campus and drove to her house during lunch break. (Cell phones, texting, and email didn’t exist in our world.)
In less than two weeks, she was gone. The doctors thought she had mono, then hepatitis. They simply didn’t know what happened.
The night she died, I was at school rehearsing for our Spring Choir concert. She should have been been with me on the rickety risers rather than in a hospital bed. I stood on the back row, singing, when images of my life without Carol flooded before my eyes. I pictured the Spring concert with an empty place where she should have been standing. I flashed forward to Senior night on the football field. She didn’t get roses from the players because she wasn’t there. She was missing from Senior prom, and Senior Day at the river park. And more. And more. I couldn’t hold back the tears, so I dashed out of the auditorium to find refuge in the entryway bathroom. I sobbed and sobbed. I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I thought perhaps she might be too weak to come back to school. We had so many plans for our Senior year. I couldn’t imagine not having her by my side for the highs and lows of life. I told myself I was being silly, pulled it together, and returned to rehearsal. The moment I opened my mouth to sing, I choked on fresh tears. More images flashed before my eyes. Carol wasn’t in any of them.
I bolted from rehearsal, raced to my car, and headed home — with gut-wrenching sobs that made driving difficult. I searched for Daddy, who was rehearsing one of his youth choirs across the street from our house. He stopped rehearsal to console me. Daddy always made everything better. I was emotionally exhausted. I went home and collapsed on my bed. After Daddy got home a bit later, I heard the phone rang. He called me into the living room and sat me on his lap. Mother stood ashen by his side. Carol’s family had just called to say she died. She left this world at that very moment during rehearsal when the “my-life-without-Carol” slideshow started playing in my head.
That day, I changed. I may have looked the same from the outside, but I was no longer a carefree teenager full of plans for the future. I got sucked inside the sink hole of my heart. I didn’t want talk about Carol to well-meaning outsiders. I hated being told how I should feel or how I should move forward. I really didn’t care what anyone said. I refused to give her up. I put my jagged heart in a treasure box that only I could access. She was my secret pain. No one could take her from me and I would never forget her. That was my vow.
Fast forward to now. I can only write this blogpost because I’m cracking open my treasure box and setting Carol free. I’ve held her prisoner for far too long. I thank DC Metro Church for getting me to this place of freedom.
In November last year, I was in a Thrive prayer service and David Stine, our pastor, said that someone in the group had a broken heart that needed healing. I was sitting up in the back row on the risers. I felt as if I’d been hit with a sledge hammer. The experience really shook me. I sat there processing. I didn’t think I had a broken heart. I walked through a list of adversaries at work, loved ones who died, divorce. Nothing clicked. I simply didn’t get it…until a small voice inside whispered the word, “Carol.” Gut punch. A groundswell of tears gushed out, as if a pipeline burst. I was thankful to be in the back of the sanctuary. What a revelation that I’ve been a “walking-wounded” for nearly four decades. I never saw myself that way. I imagined myself quite resilient. How wrong I’ve been.
To top it off, I realized it was Carol’s birthday weekend. She would have turned 57.
God always surprises me with His perfect timing and creative order. I’m really thankful He knows the very “heart” of me, and loves me despite my brokenness. He lets me think I’m moving toward one thing, when He’s actually getting me in position for what He really wants. The DC Metro Thrive prayer night was all having a “heart” for giving. I interpreted it literally as financial giving. But what God wanted from me was my buried treasure. [Note: God has an amazing poetic sense of symmetry as well. He revealed Carol’s death to me on the risers in the school auditorium. He revealed my broken heart to me on the risers in the DC Metro Church sanctuary.]
God, the Great Healer, revealed my broken heart when He knew I was strong enough to face it. I’d been praying to be fully the person God wanted, and He showed me He had to heal my heart first. He needed to get me to a place where I could freely give Him my most prized possession — Carol. She was the Thrive offering He wanted me to bring to the alter.
So here’s the thing about broken hearts: sometimes we don’t know we have them, yet the jagged edges poke and prick and gash new holes as we bend and shift and stretch our hearts. We bleed internally, yet think we’re ok. We may feel pain, but we ignore it and distract ourselves with shiny objects. I’d stuffed my broken heart into a treasure box that I wouldn’t let anyone see. It was my way of keeping Carol alive — and not letting go.
How many of you hold on to broken hearts, broken promises, broken dreams?
Today may be your day to “let go and let God.”
Carol wrote this:
Even though we travel in different directions, our paths may cross and we will meet —
I will look at you.
You will look at me.
We will take ourselves and share them with each other. We will discover together there are things that are more important than ourselves. We begin trying to please each other because we care, but sometimes we try too hard and it becomes time to stop and remember ourselves again —
I can only be me.
You can only be you.
In life, we each have our own path to follow —
You have yours, and
I have mine.
We are all different so each of our paths are different —
You travel one direction.
I travel the other.
On our paths, we meet certain problems that will have to be solved, obstacles that will have to be righted, goals that will have to be reached —
You must deal with yours.
I must deal with mine.
We cannot change for each other.
I must step aside and let you continue down your path.
You must do the same for me.
I do not know what I will encounter next, but I leave with a greater understanding of myself and others because of you.
I know that even though our paths have crossed, we will never be able the walk the same one —
but, instead, just meet at the crossings.
Thank you, Carol, for crossing my path. I’m different because of you. I miss you.