PT. 1: Around The World and Back

*This update will be in three parts with each section being released a few days apart: The first will recall my brief trip to Bakersfield and the second to London while the third will be focused on my time in Rome and Pompeii.

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Angel at a Vans and Shindig event.

Oh, to say that the last month has been a whirlwind for our family is quite an understatement. At the end of June, Leah and I received the unfortunate news that one of the skateboarders—Angel Rodriguez—from the Shindig (i.e. our youth centre that we ran for 10 years) had been struck by a car, while skating, and died (See news story here). Leah and I followed closely the chaos that ensued on Facebook. His friends, and fellow Shindig skateboarders, were in absolute shock at the sudden loss of their dear friend. As Leah and I watched his friend’s confusion and anger mound we felt our distance for the first time. We wanted to be there to mourn with them and help them cope with the tragedy. Early on Angel’s father and I were in contact, and he expressed his hope that I could perform the funeral ceremony. Through the sheer generosity of a couple back home (and dear friends to Angel), I was able to perform the funeral. About a year prior another local skateboarder (and friend) had died and I watched as the pastor mispronounced his name, and I thought, “I can’t let it be like that for Angel.” So, after 26 hours of flights and layovers I was in Bakersfield. Though the circumstances were unfortunate I hoped to make the best of my time in town.

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Within two hours of my flight landing I was at Chipotle. It had been nearly a year since I had sunk my teeth into a succulent burrito or enjoyed the curious stomach gurgle after ingesting spicy salsa (the jalapeños in Scotland taste like sweet pickles…yuck!). After a long nights’ sleep, I was up early and ready to go. I enjoyed my morning at Dagny’s Coffee, my “second office” when we lived in Bakersfield. I stuck around there for about four hours while scores of friends poured in just to see me. Over the course of five days I had the opportunity to catch up with friends and family, and it was a wonderful time. I was quite thankful for everyone who paid for my food, drinks, and movie tickets…it was completely unexpected. Y’all made me feel missed and loved! These times together made it difficult to leave.

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My time in Bakersfield, however, was not just about seeing family and friends, but to connect with Angel’s family and help them put their son to rest. Prior to my arrival, Angel’s father had decided to hold an open casket on Sunday (June 26, 2016) and the funeral on Monday (June 27, 2016). At the viewing hundreds of Angel’s family and friends poured into a small chapel to pay their respects. I asked Tyrone Bernal—someone I consider a very close friend and a positive influence on Angel (and Angel’s friends)—to attend the viewing with me to provide support for Angel’s family and friends. We watched as some of the toughest kids in our youth program broke down in tears for their friend. Tyrone and I were there to hug and cry with them. I became thankful for the 10+ years that I invested in each one of these kid’s lives…they trusted me and knew I cared about them. This was so helpful for me as I continue to look back on my life and consider how I’ve spent my time. Happily, I have few regrets with the Shindig.

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Angel ripping on a skateboard as usual!

The funeral came the next day and it was a wonderful show of Angel’s influence. The Garden Community Church was packed with friends and family, nearly numbering 400 people. Over the few days I had to prepare the eulogy (through many tears), I felt urged to help Angel’s friends and family cope with their grief and loss. During the service I encouraged everyone to allow themselves to feel the full impact of their loss; to neither deny their pain nor make light of it (my eulogy in full: Angel – Funeral Service – for blog). The audience was gracious with me as the lump in my throat, sniffling nose, watery eyes, and outright ugly cry would have been a distraction in any other setting. During the funeral there were so many kind words shared about Angel’s life and influence—from helping out younger skaters to sharing his valuables with others when he had so little. And after knowing Angel for some 7+ years, I can attest to every positive word spoken about him.

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The funeral was followed by a committal service, where we laid Angel’s body to rest. It was overwhelmingly hot by any standards, yet the bulk of those at the funeral service turned up. I prayed a final prayer for Angel and we committed his body to God. Before lowering his casket into the ground, friends and family took skateboard stickers and plastered them all over his casket as though it were a skateboard…a true tribute to a Bakersfield skateboard legend! Overall, everything went as well as it could, considering the situation, and the process of healing could now begin. After many hugs, tears, and laughs I said goodbye to the hundreds of kids that Leah and I had poured our lives into over the years. Tuesday morning I headed back to Scotland…to a glorious 62° F.

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