Top Shelf

Lessons in gratitude from an 8-year-old

by Chris Aaland

Giving thanks is difficult for my family this time of year. Four years ago, we lost our son, Gus, just 5½ months old, to a rare strain of the Haemophilus influenzae. Contrary to its name, it isn’t the flu … it’s a strain of a virus that our children aren’t vaccinated for. Fewer than 100 children per 100,000 are affected by it worldwide. Gus was one of those 100 or fewer. Thanksgiving was spent in Children’s Hospital in Denver as Gus was in a coma. He died the next day.

A year later, I noticed shortness of breath – particularly at night – while on a pre-Thanksgiving pheasant hunting trip in Kansas. Stubbornly, I chalked it up to anxiety with the anniversary of Gus’ death on the horizon. By mid-December, with the breathing difficulties continuing, I visited my family doctor. He heard a murmur. A cardiologist confirmed an aortic aneurysm, which was quite possibly a genetic condition. My mom showed many of the classic features of Marfan’s syndrome, which often affects tall people. Defects to heart valves and aortas are among the most common symptoms.  The week before Christmas, I underwent a valve transplant. Mom died of a massive heart attack 15 months later.

Then on Nov. 17, it seemed like it was happening all over again. Shelly and I were both home sick and Otto was riding the school bus home. At around 3:35 p.m., five minutes after drop-off time, we started getting nervous. Twenty minutes later, we received a text from School District 9R that the bus had been involved in an accident.

We quickly drove to town. Not knowing where the accident was, we headed to Park Elementary, trying to retrace the bus’ route. Then Shelly received a phone call from an EMT that Otto was being transported to Mercy Regional Medical Center with what they feared was a separated shoulder. Upon arriving at Mercy, we were escorted to the chapel – not a happy place for us. At Children’s Hospital, the chapel wasn’t a place of reflection and prayer. It was a place of grieving. In the Mercy Chapel we met Otto’s principal, Kathleen Lau, and others from Park. We were among the first parents to arrive. Nearly a half-hour later, we were taken back to the emergency room, where Otto was lying on a hospital bed, his shoulder in a sling, preparing for x-rays. These tests confirmed Otto had broken the tip of his collarbone.

Eight-year-old bones heal quicker and more thoroughly than adult bones. He’ll probably be OK for January’s Parks & Rec basketball season. 9R said that 16 children onboard that bus were treated for varying injuries at Mercy. We heard from other parents of more children with broken bones, some more severe than Otto’s collarbone.

My initial reactions to the crash were anger and frustration. This morphed into questions once Otto was safely home. Why were injuries reported as “minor?” Surely, broken bones aren’t minor to the kids suffering from them and the parents consoling their crying sons and daughters at 2 a.m.  Why was a driver with two prior incidents still on the road? Why aren’t bus drivers paid a better wage? Why aren’t seat belts mandatory? And why did it take nearly 25 minutes to notify us of the wreck?

Superintendent Dan Snowberger provided parents with answers last Thursday night. His concern and compassion for the students was evident. Principal Lau and her staff were visibly upset. The bus driver, William Farley, was remorseful. His driving record during a career hauling oxygen tanks was spotless.

The answers lessened our anguish. Indeed, Ms. Lau’s actions in particular reassured us that Otto is in good, loving hands at Park. But Otto’s fears? They might not go away so easily. He’s a tough kid. In four years, he’s seen his brother, grandma and three great-grandmothers pass. Not once did he cry for one of these deaths. But he’s shed tears since, wondering how soon the Grim Reaper would come calling again. Last Tuesday, he thought it was for him. He may even be afraid to get back aboard a bus.

We can forgive. We may even forget. And we certainly heal, grow and learn.

Yet on Saturday, out of nowhere, he told Shelly that he was grateful for many things: his family, his nation, football, all of the insects and animals, Sports Authority. Hey, he’s 8 – I don’t get the insects and Sports Authority gratefulness, either.

So if an 8-year-old kid who walked out of a bus rollover can be thankful, so can I. This week’s Top Shelf list includes 10 things I’m thankful for:

1. Family. Having Rosie and Otto snuggle up to me on cold winter nights are priceless moments.

2. Friends. You know who you are.

3. Colleagues. Be they from KSUT or the Telegraph, these folks make work fun.

4. Community. It was great to play a small part in paying it forward this year, helping another family in their time of need. We’ve certainly benefitted from this spirit in the past.

5. Resiliency. Watching the community bond together after the Gold King Mine spill was not shocking. Seeing pictures of people landing trout or rafting the river helped us cope.

6. Festivity. I attended nearly a dozen music festivals and beerfests in 2015, and more than a dozen stand-alone concerts … often alongside many of you.

7. Creativity. The local music community, be they bands, solo musicians, promoters or DJs, continued to inspire me. The same can be said for artists, actors, brewmeisters and chefs.

8. Diversity. We may have different skin colors, sexual orientations, religions, political affiliations and opinions. But without these differences, we wouldn’t be half as interesting.

9. Humility. We share the credit when things go well; and the blame when things go awry.

10. Love. John Lennon sang a song or two about it. Something to the effect that it’s all you need.

I know this is a music and nightlife column. Sometimes the best entertainment is the deepest reflection about the things that matter the most. I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving.


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