Rhoades luminary

My family lifts off a luminary on a very special day, in honor of what would’ve been a very special 2020 high school graduate.

I remember where I was on Sept. 11, 2001.

Working at WDBA in DuBois as the station’s production manager, I walked by the main recording studio where we were just turning on the TV to check in on a report that something bad had happened in New York City.

A plane of some sort had just crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers, on a sunny and cloudless morning across the eastern part of the country. A reporter was talking to an aviation expert about how this could happen.

“This was not an accident,” the expert said convincingly.

Not long after that, and I believe as I was watching, a second plane crashed into the second tower. The rest of the day unfolded and we were thrust into the post-9/11 era.

My wife Kim was a month or so pregnant and the uncertainty of what the future would be was a real, and scary. What were we bringing our first baby into?

And that’s how things began for the Class of 2020. You see, this year’s high school graduates were either newborns or soon to be born within the several months that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Fast forward ahead 19 years and here we are, our daily lives stuck in limbo as the coronavirus pandemic forced us to step back, stay away from each other and try to stay healthy in uncertain times. While we’ve been somewhat spared locally of the virus, the worldwide cases were nearing five million with about 1.5 million here in the U.S. with over 90,000 of them resulting in death.

So death and fear and uncertainty 19 years ago and uncertainly and illness today surrounds this class of 2020, which was denied the traditional pomp and circumstance that comes this time of year with graduation.

We’ll get through this. Class of 2020, you will all get through this. Tough times will knock you down, believe me, and there’s strength there to get right back up. And of course, enjoy the great times and but don’t take anything for granted.

For the first time in 18 years, I read something I wrote for our special newborn that sadly and tragically didn’t make it. Our Mikayla Mary Rhoades died on May 14, 2002, four days after she was born. I’ll share below part of what I wrote in our eulogy:

Little Mikayla (May 18, 2002),

In the midst of great pain and sorrow, you gave us great joy. How could parents not be overjoyed when a baby enters their lives. We were prepared to give you a lifetime of love, but we had to pack it into 3 1/2 days. We know we aren’t the first parents to lose a child, but parents shouldn’t have to bury their own child. But here we are.

What would you have looked like? We think you had dad’s brown eyes and mom’s ears. You definitely had dad’s chin and mom’s long fingers. You were beautiful.

Would you have been an athlete? How about a basketball player? I would have loved to sit in the stands, cheer like crazy, yell at the officials and root for you and your team to win. And I would have been proud, regardless of who won or how many points you scored.

Perhaps you would’ve been a runner, taking the baton and sprinting down the final stretch to win the race. I would’ve been there at the finish line, ready to give you a big hug and a pat on the back just for trying.

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How about a softball player, hitting a ball in the gap and racing around the bases for a triple? I would have been there, without a scorebook, rooting for you, win or lose, strikeout or home run.

Or gymnastics, swimming or any other sport. It wouldn’t have mattered, Mikayla.

Maybe you wouldn’t play sports, Mikayla. Maybe you would have been like your mother, playing the trumpet and glorifying God through music. I would’ve been proud of you then, too. A singer, danger, writer, painter, would have you done any of those too?

Or nothing at all, just a daughter we could be proud of.

Mikayla, you will always have a place in our heart. We hope to give your brothers or sisters some day. We will not give up on becoming parents. You will never be forgotten because you were our first.

Thank you Lord for giving us Mikayla for 88 hours and 48 minutes, because it felt like 88 days and we cherished every second of it.

We’ll miss you Mikayla.

Love, Mom and Dad.

Last Thursday night, Kim, Mikayla’s little and now 16-year-old brother Jamison and I sent up a luminary off our back porch. We’ve done these a handful of times to honor her birthday over the years, but this one wasn’t the same.

Once the luminary gained enough heat to lift off, it floated up and away from us in a different direction than the ones we’ve sent off in the past. I suppose that’s fitting considering that as an 18-year-old, Mikayla would’ve been on the verge of something new, going off to college perhaps and forging her own path through life.

To the Brookville Area High School Class of 2020, I’ve been watching you, writing about you in the sports pages, chronicling your accomplishments and achievements, and in some cases helping you in some small way, or encouraging, or perhaps even coaching.

Without question, Mikayla would’ve been among you somewhere, celebrating those special moments. She would’ve benefited from good friends, great teachers, awesome coaches and a supportive Brookville community I’m happy to call home.

But do not forget that with the great and happy times come the valleys. I pray that the tragedies stay away, but if they do visit you and your family, you’ll find the strength and the courage to carry on and overcome.

I know you can do it. Make us all proud.

Rich Rhoades is the sports editor of the Jeffersonian Democrat and the Leader-Vindicator in New Bethlehem. E-mail: rrhoades@thecourierexpress.com. Follow on Twitter @TheSkinny1969.

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