Innocence, defined.

How do you describe your perfect morning? For some of us perfection comes in the olfactory senses being jarred to life, waking up to the smell of a loved one frying bacon in the kitchen and coffee gurgling re-assuredly out of a percolator and into oversize mugs. Some like to awaken in a tent overlooking a glacier and a magnificent sunrise while for the rest of us, we might wake up being spooned by a 90lb. lap dog-Boxer with the breath of someone who regularly kisses raccoon carcasses for sport. We all have our own little versions of dawn rituals, washing fire trucks or screaming at our children that they’ll be the death of us if they don’t get up and at ’em RIGHT THIS VERY INSTANT.

Lately, I’ve taken up running again, albeit at a pace that might win me awards on the nursing home circuit and no where else. I ran the other morning with my “work wife” and we wound through four miles of paved trails, catching up and waxing foolish about his brother’s wedding, about the state of our livers and our lives, all good things. My nose was overpowered with the scent of wild onions on the trail while he told me of the various methods of killing all the birds we encountered along the way, me content to chuff like the old plow-mule I am and take in his company and friendship for a brief moment. I needed this, the human connection, the chance to appreciate the comfort of a boon companion’s relentless pace alongside your own. Four miles of freedom counts as a top ten good morning for me.

Fast forward to today, where at our local CrossFit, the day’s workout was dedicated to a three year old little boy named Landan Bland who lost his battle with brain cancer on August 29th, after having been diagnosed just last March. His story will make you bawl, but you can get a look at an incredible family, right here. A child’s passing always leaves vacancies in the hearts of anyone who hears about it, not to speak of the emotional devastation that the family must endure daily, forever. I never met Landan, but that’s not really important. He symbolizes innocence and love and when we see those things destroyed so unjustly, we’re left to question everything else around us. We wrap our own children up in our arms ferociously, terrified and filled with love all at once, praying to whoever it is we pray to for mercy and strength, that their own journeys through life keep them safe.

Simply doing pullups in the name of someone seems, at best, inconsequential, but like Landan, it’s about more than the physical effort. When our communities bond to raise funds for those who need it, or support, or love, the effects can overwhelm the senses and offer us once again some faith in the goodwill of our neighbors and friends. Bankers and cops, financial planners and firemen, nurses and attorneys, it seemed like everyone stopped on their way into the gym and stuffed the folder with what they could. This wasn’t to build copper spires on a mega-church; this was meant to help a family with their needs so that they could properly grieve the greatest loss known to any parent. The coaches took a moment to properly honor an innocent soul departed, and the athletes took their places, put aside their egos and personal issues and focused on the memory of Landan while grinding their way through an hour of physical depletion. I can say with confidence that although I couldn’t complete the workout exactly as prescribed, it still counts as one of the more grueling hours of my life. Each thought of quitting was met with a barrage of images of this boy in my mind, sweat and tears mingling from my lowered head as the thought of losing a child overtook me and was only countered by getting back into the routine. I was grateful for the chance to face the fears that haunt us most, while dragging my body through three thousand meters of running in the rain, getting pelted in the face by the drops and grateful just to experience THAT.

Divorce is survivable. Some car wrecks are survivable, as is the breakup of Guns N’ Roses. But to lose a child can take you to a precipice from which you might never return. My thoughts and heart are with Landan’s family; my soul wishes for them to discover the strength to survive this pain. Their little boy gave them so much happiness, no doubt, and beyond that, he gave thousands of others a chance to focus on what’s important, to appreciate their own time on this planet. I am grateful to Landan for giving all of us that. I’m grateful for my own life and the joy brought to my life by my children and close friends and family, all. I even appreciate slogging through that hour of hell to reflect on Landan and his battle.

Good mornings can come in forms we’d least suspect, really. I hope your morning is good, too, wherever this finds you. Rest in peace, little Landan Bland, and thank you.