Birthdays, Deaths and Miracles

P & Nic-1_copyBirthdays and death anniversary dates give us a way to cherish those still with us and to honor the memories of those we love who are no longer here. On December 7, 1990, my beloved grandpa, Ralph McKinzie “Coach Mac” died at the age of 96. I was fortunate to have him as a guiding influence throughout the first 3 decades of my life. I was especially blessed since my grandfather and I survived miracles when we were 25-year-olds. In the winter of 1918 and 1983, at an interval of 75 years, we were nursed back to health by kind strangers in hospitals on foreign soil.

On the 100th anniversary of WWI, a war that caused millions of casualties, I reflect back in gratitude that my grandfather survived a one in a million shot. In a freak accident in Germany, a stray bullet from a drunk infantryman entered a window and hit my grandpa in the back. The shot was deflected off a rib, and instead of going through him it followed the path around his rib and exited within a quarter of an inch of his heart.

Northern - bb champions 1940_copyMy grandpa recovered and went on to contribute greatly to society. Though only one of his three sons survived, Coach Mac helped shape the lives of hundreds of men in a college coaching career spanning 7 decades. His son, my dad, went on to teach and coach and raise four children, one who went on to become a professional athlete.Jim & Grandpa_copy

At the peak of my career as a basketball player, I survived a car accident that should have killed me. When our vehicle traveling at 80 miles an hour, flipped off the French autoroute and landed in an icy river during a snowy February, what were the odds of survival? From my hospital window in Verdun, I gazed out at the famous battlegrounds and graveyards of WWI heroes and wondered would I ever walk again.

Even though I still suffer from pain and repercussions of the injuries sustained, I went on to marry a cher Frenchman, raise 2 children, teach, coach, write and lead a productive life.

I adhere to the hand-me-down lessons of life that my grandfather instilled in my father who then passed on to me and I later shared with my own son and daughter. Cherish family. Give back to the community. Set a good example. Do the right thing even when no one is looking. I think they call it integrity.

Jim tossing the coin on McKinzie Football Eureka College

Jim tossing the coin on McKinzie Football Eureka College

If my grandfather were still alive he would have been 110 today. Even though he no longer walks the earth, he lives on in the hearts and minds of the family he left behind.

On November 18, 1990, his first great grandson was born in Paris; three weeks later, Grandpa died. Four thousand miles away I mourned his passing, my family comforted me saying he hung on until Nicolas arrived safely, then he left a space for our newborn son. At the time I felt guilty, as if my son’s birth facilitated my grandfather’s death, but when I see the kind young man my son has become, I understand the divinity of the life cycle. Following in his great grandpa, grandfather, and mom’s footsteps, Nic became the fourth generation to dedicate his life to teaching and coaching our youth.P & Nic-3_copy

Time and again, when plagued by pain and seemingly incurable illness, I question my purpose. The Great War of 1914-1918 took over 16 million lives and destroyed millions of others; why did my grandpa survive and thrive? Worldwide a P & Nic-2person is killed every 25 seconds in a traffic related death. Why was my life spared in that horrific accident in 1983?

Life seems like a crapshoot; each day another roll of the dice.

But one has to wonder, is our existence a coincidence? Or fate?

And miracles.

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  1. Yes, Pat, miracles happen everyday as you attest to here. My beloved grandfather, Alfredo, died on December 7 when I was 11 but he is still with me. He left his family in Italy when he was 16, never to see them again. I marvel at his courage. And why did I survive cancer when so many around me succumbed to the same diagnosis? We are blessed. Your story and message are beautiful, as always.

    • Kathy, I know that you are another miracle. Aren’t we fortunate to have the imprints of our grandparents in our DNA and the memories of the ways they touched our lives remain so vivid. When I cross the Atlantic to see family, I am often reminded of my Norwegian grandfather, who like your Alfredo, left his homeland and sailed to America and never saw his family again.

  2. Yes, Pat, miracles happen everyday as you attest to here. My beloved grandfather, Alfredo, died on December 7 when I was 11 but he is still with me. He left his family in Italy when he was 16, never to see them again. I marvel at his courage. And why did I survive cancer when so many around me succumbed to the same diagnosis? We are blessed. Your story and message are beautiful, as always.

  3. Sis, Beautiful, simply Beautiful! So many blessings in our lives. Thank you for reminding us once again, how precious Life is! Seize the Day for no one knows what tomorrow will bring! I continually see similarities in Grampa Mac and Nic. It warms my heart! Te amo!

  4. Very thought-provoking questions, Pat. Also, Kathy’s comment is moving. I frequently ponder the “crapshoot” aspect of our existence, since I frankly don’t believe in any deity (although I’m open to being convinced). But at the moment, my philosophy is: if you’re lucky enough to be alive, healthy, and mindful, live as if you appreciate it. Inhabit your life fully. Don’t reject such a gift, when others haven’t been so fortunate in this lottery of life. Lastly, your writing is just beautiful. Very moving.

    • “Inhabit your life fully.” I like that, Lynne. Each day is a gift and we never know when our time here is up, so regardless of one’s belief system, let’s continue to embrace the day with open minds, share positivity and stay connected word by word. I greatly appreciate your words. Always.

  5. Pat, what an eloquently written tribute to all the dear men in your life. We all have a purpose for being here and perhaps it isn’t always ours to know, but we can rest in knowing it has been well orchestrated from above.

    • Oh yes, Tinie, I feel so blessed to have been surrounded by so many good & dear men in my life including also my brother and brother in laws.

  6. Good points to ponder, Pat. Personally, I believe in miracles — they happen every day. It’s just that, too often, they’re “misdiagnosed” as coincidence. Or serendipity. Or luck.

    Why one survives and another doesn’t remains a mystery. Why one takes ill and another remains healthy is another mystery. Perhaps we’re all going to have a LOT of questions to ask God when we get to Heaven?!

    • Yes, in our fast paced lives, we often overlook the miracles that occur everyday. And certainly strong faith helps weather the storms of life. We sure will have lots of questions.

  7. Another beautiful, thought provoking post, Pat….and a reminder of how blessed we are to have had such positive, ethical and compassionate influences in our lives. It does make you wonder what is in God’s grand plan, but I am grateful every day for the miracle of YOU!

  8. Pat, thanks for a wonderful article. God certainly blesses our lives with family and friends. I don’t think it’s fate or coincidence, but God’s grace at work.

  9. What a beautiful article, Pat. It brought tears to my eyes. I remember clearly the day our son was born when God saw our family needed a male member as a close uncle with the same last name died within minutes of Greg’s birth in the same hospital.

    • Thanks for sharing your touching story about Greg and your uncle. God works in mysterious ways. Peggy and I have been blessed being raised in such strong loving families with such great moms.

  10. It was truly a miracle that both you and your grandfather survived such horrific accidents. The quirks of life are not easily explained, but it just goes to show how thankful we must be for the gift of life. As I know you are every day, Pat.

    • This too is especially the season to be reminded of the miracles. Enjoy the gifts -family, friends, words – that fill your life with blessings.

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