The world would have been better off if Wayne had lived. The level of kindness and generosity that he possessed is rare and the world is worse off without it. Wayne was my nephew and if fortune had smiled on him just a little bit more, he would have been 33 years old today. It would only have been fair as Wayne always had a smile for everyone who crossed his path.
But life is rarely fair and death even less so. It wasn’t that Wayne was without luck. He had been deployed to Iraq three times and made it safely home each and every time which made it all the more ironic in the saddest possible way that he was brought down by an ordinary car crash shortly after his last return. All of that worrying done by everyone who loved him while he was in Iraq and just when it felt like it was safe to relax, the worst happened. Yes, irony of the very saddest kind.
It surprised no one when Wayne signed up for the military. He had loved wearing camouflage and shooting at things since he was a tiny boy. It seems like he bagged his first deer before he even started school although that can’t possibly be right, can it? But he was certainly little and before he was in high school, he could gut, skin and butcher a deer with great skill. I always found it ironic that someone with such a kind, gentle heart handled killing and death as well as he did. It seemed at odds with the gentleness of his soul.
My daughter was 7 years younger than Wayne and she totally adored him. One year when he was in high school and in her estimation an adult since she was only in first or second grade at the time, it snowed while we were in North Carolina on a Christmas visit. Wayne suited her up in one of his old outgrown camo coveralls and took her sledding with his friends. She was ecstatic “sledding with the big boys.”
Wayne saw to it that the other guys treated her well and even tried to keep the foul language to a minimum, a step that was completely unnecessary since she had lived her whole life in Brooklyn and could probably have taught them a word or two. That episode is still one of her fondest childhood memories. I cannot imagine any other high school kid who would have shown such generosity to a little kid and been totally immune to any possible razzing by his buddies.
Wayne’s sport was wrestling which he did all through high school and by all accounts, was very good at it and was quite an asset to the Elkin team. His senior year, another of my nephews was a freshman and wrestled for Mount Airy. He was already bigger than Wayne who had always been skinny but was an inexperienced wrestler and Wayne could easily beat him even though he was in a much lower weigh class. During the Elkin — Mount Airy wrestling match, Wayne was coaching his cousin on the sidelines. Wayne didn’t understand his teammate’s aggravation. How could he not help his cousin out? It was his nature to help everyone.
Later on, when Facebook first began to gain popularity and I was attempting to learn its mysterious ways, Wayne was alone among his peers to accept my friend request. None of the other kids were willing to accept a middle aged man into their youthful circle. I was grateful to him then and even more so now since his account is still active and because of his generosity of spirit, I can go there and post a birthday greeting to him and read the things that other folks have said. Veteran’s Day and his birthday get the heaviest traffic but sometimes someone will just send him a message when he is on their mind. I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg in his wildest dreams intended Facebook to be a conduit to the other side but indeed it can be just that. Say what you will about social media, sometimes it serves a greater good.
Dec. 4, 2009, Wayne’s first birthday after his passing, just happened to be Elkin’s ‘Light Up Night.’ Since I had a downtown business at the time and was involved with the downtown association, his mother thought I had something to do with that coincidence. I did not as much as I would have liked to take credit for it. It was just a coincidence. A coincidence that is happening again this year. It is, after all, not that unusual for Dec. 4 to be the first Friday in December.
So tonight while squealing children are visiting Santa and the downtown tree is ceremoniously lit to usher in yet another season of consumer overspending and economic stimulation, for those of us who loved Wayne, it will also be a toast to one of the finest people we ever knew, someone we lost way too soon, someone for whom the lights continue to shine.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699 or on Twitter @BillColvard.