Christopher Lane's soulful eyes were the first thing that caught my eye when I went online last week (August of 2013) for my routine e-mail check. Although I don't make routine stops to read every story that pops up on my screen, for some reason that day, I did. Even before getting around to my e-mails, I was hooked by those eyes and reeled in by the caption line of Chris' story. It reported how these three teens basically admitted to shooting a totally random stranger, just because they were totally bored. I purposely avoid using the word "confessed" because that to me implies possession of conscience. So far in the investigation, there is no substantial evidence of conscience, human emotion, remorse or regret ~ or for that matter, not even legitimate boredom.
Many of my substitute teaching assignments take place in juvenile detention halls with kids who have criminal records ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. In my deepest-down desire to make a positive impact on every student whose path I cross, I've always managed to separate the person from the crime they committed, knowing that usually behind every "senseless" crime is an abnormal psyche twisted by generational dysfunction (yes, I can speak a little Psychobabble, too). I suppose it becomes easier for me to make that separation between person and crime, when nine times out of ten they're usually volunteering that information, as if I were their trusted counselor. And nine times out of ten they share with me in apparent remorse for what they've done and with resolve to do better when they get out.
However, after reading about this senseless, soul-less act of human devaluation, one of my very first thoughts was, what kind of teacher could I possibly be to any student if I knew they had committed a crime like this? And daring to take my personal ideology to a whole new level of self-interrogation ... And what if the victim was my own son? What then? (Oh God, I solemnly swear I'd try to do my best to be my best without that first-hand experience.)
Well, as irony would have it, I would soon discover why I was reeled in by that particular story last week. Reading that Chris was a student attending college in Oklahoma on a baseball scholarship, I immediately thought of my friend Mark Rountree, a resident of Oklahoma and former long-time Sports Editor for Enid News. Also knowing that his son Nick plays college baseball, I thought I'd send him a link to the story via Facebook, asking him if either he or Nick happened to know Chris. Well, Mark soon revealed that not only did Nick know him, but he and Chris were roommates while attending Redlands Community College in El Reno (2009-10).
For several days, "mused" by this unlikely serendipity and fired up by only two degrees of separation from Chris Lane, I had been churning the idea of posting this reflection in my blog. When I logged on the other night to ask Mark if he'd mind that I contact Nick, I was surprised to find his e-mail asking me to write Nick "a note of support" through Facebook, because "he is hurting."
Mark also informed me about the article that Enid News posted from an interview with Nick. I read the article and thought, that's exactly what I wanted to ask ~ how Nick remembered Chris in a way that spoke for others. Mark was proud of the fact that Nick "chose to represent all of us who were heartbroken by the stupid act of senseless cruelty, and doing it in a way that revealed to everybody that didn't know Chris, what a great kid he was."
My metaphorical, metaphysical mind won't rest until I can somehow make meaning where there is seemingly none. Although Chris' passing was premature by our measure of a healthy lifespan, Chris was also clearly an "old soul" whose 22 years packed a full lifetime of meaningful impact on the lives of others.
Nick Rountree's descriptors of Chris sparked these reflections of mine. If it's possible to condense a super-sized personality into a small blog box, I'm squeezing my paraphrased version of Nick's take on Chris into this Muse Box. In essence, Chris was so not mediocre, as he always worked hard to look for ways to do his best. He was a role model for "how a man should be." He was the guy everyone went to on the weekends. He loved a good argument and was so good at it that it was frustrating. He made an impact on everyone he met. Even those who never knew him were donating money to help with the funeral arrangements.He was loved by everyone he knew. He made them better people. Chris loved America, and he loved playing baseball. America gave him baseball and Sarah Harper, his best friend and soul mate (my words).
And although there are still many stones left to be turned, rocks to be lifted, and boulders to be rolled out of the way before all of the dirt is dug up and justice can be served, the sad fact of this reality is that many will never know the beauty that is still part of the American Dream. When they think of America, they may only think of a nightmarishly sick society where you, Chris, were lured to be stolen from them. They may never equate America with a place where you made a difference in countless lives ~ the place where you lived, loved, laughed and played right up until your very last day with US.
Nevertheless, may the burden of proof rest in the fact that even from such a senseless act such as this first degree murder, a person's fire will never truly be extinguished, if it can be used to turn up the heat to 360 degrees and travel the globe full circle to blaze a path for others.
Chris, somehow I know that in the grand scheme of things ~ or translated into your baseball lingo (in my lame attempt to keep metaphor alive) ~ in the final play of the final inning of your best game ever, some invisible force must have pitched me that hook en route to my e-mails that day. Your story combined with our two degrees of separation turned me into a sideline cheerleader ~ if there are cheerleaders in Baseball Heaven. I don't know much about baseball, but I do know people. And the more I read and hear about you, the more I'm cheering the fact that you covered every base in your 22 years, as you scored many Home Runs, when you became a role model for "how a man should be" (Nick Rountree).
Joanne of Frank
P.S. ~ Thank you, Nick, for sharing your observations on Chris. The fact that you even highlighted those key traits of his is a reflection of who you are. That's why you, Chris and Sarah were drawn together for that period of time. You shared much more in common than just baseball. That's also why Chris never truly left or "lost touch" with you.