Monday, August 4, 2008

It was some of the most brilliantly-lit and consecutive flashes of lightning I have ever seen in one hour. Adding to the drama, it was during a torrential downpour that accumulated almost four inches of rain in that same hour. And to add to the overall memorable experience, this natural phenomenon occurred in the very early morning hours of a summer Cub Scout camping trip in a beautifully wooded region of northern Minnesota.

My son Leo and I, along with several Cub Scout colleagues and parents, found ourselves in the midst of this very hot and humid Scouting camp in late July. The first day was a culmination of outdoor skills sessions, cafeteria-style meals, adventurous free time, scary and humorous campfire stories, and enjoyable tent games/chatter before it was lights-out under a starry sky. All that was quickly about to change...

Driving from the west was a cold burst of summer air mass that collided with our already humid and hot summer night. Instant and impromptu Cub Scout adventure. The gentle rain and wind began to pound our tents around 2:00 a.m., and was followed by the blaring of the area emergency sirens. We quickly gathered all Scouts and their parents under the camp area shelter and quickly assessed that this was not the location we desired. And whether or not we were sporting the recommended rain gear for camp, we all marched through this torrential downpour for a half-mile to our safest location: the showerroom of the camp's central facilities.

With only camping pajamas, t-shirts and tennis shoes, many parents held tightly to their Scout's hand as we trudged through the back paths of our camping area. Some portions of the trail/road were so washed out that the water was already up past our ankles. Lightning and thunder roared overhead every few seconds and the rain kept coming down in a manner I've only witnessed once in my life. All the while, our Scouts were strangely quiet and wide-eyed as we journeyed further toward the camp showerroom; headlamps and flashlights scanning the skies for the storm's eventual conclusion. We were all quiet - parent and Scout alike. For even though we had experiences like this in the past, none of those experiences had culminated into the magnitude of what we were walking through at that very moment.

We finally arrived and remained in the showerroom, along with several other Cub Scout Packs, until the Weather Service cleared our area; it took us less time to wait in the showerroom than it did for us to walk to the facility itself. And with one last burst of lightning, the rain let up and the skies cleared... leaving us to go on with the second day of our Scouting experience.

Upon reflecting on the whole experience with my son days later, I realized that this would be a moment in his life that he would remember and speak about well into his adult years... but not as I thought he might. The storm he remembered, but not as vividly as the multi-tool he purchased in the Cub Scout Trading Post. The thunder and lightning were loud, but not near as loud as the sounds of his bb's and arrows going through their targets on the shooting range. And the race for the showerroom was quickly overshadowed by the race to the swimming area, fishing area and to each cafeteria meal. Overall, my son Leo would state, "I loved every minute of it, Dad. But no matter how much fun camping is, it's always great to be back home."

On July 19th of this summer, the Nativity Elementary School community offered their sorrowful farewell to their dear friend and colleague, Carol Johansen. Unlike the typical career paths of individuals today, Carol faithfully served as the school's office receptionist/administrator for 46 years. Yes, 46 years - and the majority of that was served with her husband by her side, who also worked at the school.

And in that position, Carol saw the passing of thousands of young children through the doors of that school. She saw the passing of decades and generations of styles and teaching techniques. She saw the passing of the mimeograph machine for the present day computer printer. She saw the passing of carbon paper for the present day desktop computer. And in 2000, she sadly saw the passing of her husband Gordon. All the while, she faithfully continued on.

And then it occurred. With all the furry of a powerful summer rain storm, Carol was diagnosed with cancer shortly after her husband's death. She boldly trudged through the chemotherapy/radiation sessions while faithfully serving and protecting those young lives around her waist. As wide-eyed as her students came through the doors of the school in those warm fall days, Carol most likely faced the challenge ahead of her in a similar manner, while holding tightly to the hands of her students. She would battle and befriend her illness. And all the while, the storm raged overhead.

Years passed and like so many summer rain storms, the cancer quieted and reemerged. Weakened only physically by the cancer, Carol completed the 2007 school year, scanned the skies for a reprieve and again, faithfully looked forward to the 2008 school year.

While the members of the Nativity Elementary School community were in the midst of replacing a 20+-year-old playground structure on July 17 and 18, a cold air mass was forming in the west...

On Saturday, July 19th, a weakened Carol journeyed forth from this life. And the storm raged on for the rest of us. We were all quiet - parent and student alike. For even though we've had experiences like this in the past, none of those experiences had culminated into the magnitude of what we were walking through at that very moment.

On Monday, July 21st, the Nativity Elementary School community would place the last shovelful of wood chips ground cover around the new play structure (see photo below). It had been a multi-year process that had come to fruition - through the work of many hands and hearts, including Carol.

Picturing Carol sitting on the nearby bench in the playground area, seen in the photo below, I sat down beside her. And I wondered what Carol might say about her entire experience at Nativity Elementary School. It is my guess that her responses would be similar to my son's responses: Her personal storms over the years she remembered, but not as vividly as the number of children she had comforted over the years. The pain and discomfort of her losses and illness were sometimes overwhelming, but not near as overwhelming as the laughter and cheers of her students. And her race toward remission would always be overshadowed by the joy she experienced in watching her students race to the lunch room, to physical education and into the arms of their parents.

And with all her childlike grace and faith, it is my belief that Carol would conclude, "I loved every minute of it. But no matter how much fun it is, it's always great to be back home."

Godspeed home, Carol. You will be missed, but no forgotten.


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