If you could go back and change one day in your life, would you? A day that in hindsight adversely affected the course of your life and those most important to you. I can say without a doubt that June 13, 2009 is that day for me. A day that should have been a catalyst for a dream to help those in need turned into the first domino in a decade’s worth of dominoes that rocked our family foundation to the core.
We were three years into our Fans Across America Charitable Foundation journey to help families with seriously ill children when I was named a finalist in Major League Baseball and People Magazine’s All Stars Among Us program. This was an amazing opportunity to raise awareness for the Foundation, and as a former minor league baseball player, the opportunity to go to the All Star game in St. Louis if we won was a pretty cool added benefit.
As part of the program, the three finalists representing the Arizona Diamondbacks were invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the June 13, 2009 home game. My wife and two older children joined me for this event, and we left our three year old with family friends. While we were at the game that evening, the unthinkable happened.
I have thought long and hard about how to share what happened that night, as there are elements well beyond me and personal to others. It was the first domino of many that changed the trajectory of our family and impacted others’ lives. This was an uspeakable act which violated the youngest among us and set off a chain reaction that thrust our family into a darkness that continues to cast a long shadow.
As events unfolded after that fateful evening, friendships were changed forever and trust was obliterated. We tried to do the right things, but what are the right things in this type of situation? We went through the “justice process” but found none. We worked to put the broken pieces back together, but there were pieces missing, some of which still have not been found. Then just as we thought we were on the road to recovery came the hit from the blindside.
While we were focused on putting the trauma behind us, what energy we had was aimed at fixing what we could and trying to prevent any further damage. Unfortunately, while our attention was where it should have been at the time, trouble lurked elsewhere, and depression, anxiety and despair soon entered our lives. We had put up our own protective walls as adults to “power through” the pain and keep the ship afloat. This however cut us off in unintended ways and helped knock over the next domino.
Mental illness had now entered the picture, and the roller coaster ride that was triggered by the first domino had only just begun. For those suffering from mental illness, it can literally be like experiencing hell on earth. And for those trying to love and support this person, it leaves its own path of destruction.
Many more dominoes have fallen since the initial catalyst on June 13, 2009, and these events have caused me to ask many questions. I have questioned God about why he would allow these things to happen and not always found the answers to be satisfying. I have questioned my faith and doubted God’s presence, only to find my way home like the prodigal son. But as a person perpetually looking to find meaning in life’s experiences, I can’t help but try and make the most out of what has happened.
I am a very different person today then I was a decade ago, in mostly good ways I believe. I am more empathetic and try (and often fail) to meet and love people where they are on their journey. But I have found that my heart is also sometimes closed off and numb, not wanting to take on anymore burdens or pain. Is it possible to have felt so much pain that your heart puts up it’s own walls? I still find joy in the little things, like moments with my wife, children and granddaughter…or in seeing a beautiful sunset. But many things in life that used to bring joy have become somewhat mundane.
And time, as it does, continued to march on, even when I didn’t want it to. Our family found paths to healing, although the scars are still with us. We are now stronger in places and still in need of work in others. The Fans Across America Charitable Foundation has evolved and has helped hundreds of families in need, with many thanks to some special angels who stepped in when I was not able. And in the end, the events of the past ten years have helped me focus on the things that matter most and led me to find ways to continue to simplify life. In the end, it’s not about having the most, it’s about being with the people who matter most.
If I could go back and change one day, June 13, 2009 would be it, in the hopes that by correcting that one moment, the rest of time would fall in line. But life doesn’t afford us this luxury, and the best we can do is learn from these experiences. Trauma has an unexpected way of changing our lives, and we have to choose if it is for better or for worse. All of these experiences, the good and bad, have been part of my journey to the heart, and this is the place where I have found love to be the greatest healing power of all.