It was Thanksgiving morning and I was running down Delaware Avenue with fourteen thousand other Buffalonians. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Sunny and crisp but not too cold. And there was a communal joy in the air, an upbeat and unpretentious free-spiritedness. The Turkey Trot. Buffalo at its finest.
But I was so sad at that moment, so unbelievably sad. Maybe I looked just fine on the outside, but there were knots in my chest and stomach, and I felt horrible on the inside. My wife and I had been expecting a new baby that was due to arrive just after Thanksgiving. Instead, a few weeks earlier, everything fell apart. The baby died. My wife almost died. What had been such a hopeful time in my life was replaced in an instant with a terrible darkness, and I was still trying to understand what happened.
Why had it happened? How could it have happened? I was angry and confused and filled with fear. And to add to that, I felt totally incapable of expressing what I was feeling. I was in shock for sure, but, as usual, I was also terrified of opening up, of letting it all out.
About a week before the Turkey Trot I decided not to run the race, even though I had signed up months earlier. I was depressed, and I didn’t want to see anybody I knew and have to recount the story. But then, a few days later, I changed my mind. Maybe it will make me feel better, I thought. Maybe it will make me feel something other than the restless heartache that had overtaken me.
So there I was, running down Delaware Avenue, surrounded on all sides by thousands of fellow Turkey Trotters, trying my best to take everything in stride.
As I approached the S-curves, Somewhere over the Rainbow started playing. It was that beautiful version with just ukulele and voice. It came through my headphones and immediately filled my entire body with warmth.
I remember feeling the sun on my face right then. Up above, I saw dozens of people atop the old stone bridge looking down on all of us runners, holding signs and cheering and clapping and smiling.
Then I heard drums. I looked to my right. There was a pack of drummers in a drum circle, banging away and dancing with passion and positive energy. Somehow the drumming blended perfectly with the music in my ears.
Suddenly I felt an intense and overpowering joy. And it seemed as if it was surrounding and perhaps even embracing the deep sadness within me. Tears started streaming down my face. Thick and uncontrollable tears of hope and sorrow and gratefulness. I looked back up at the people on top of the bridge. They were cheering for all of us, they were cheering for me! I raised my arms above my head triumphantly. The drummers! The runners! The music! The sunshine!
Seconds later I was passing under the bridge. All of the runners whooped and hollered, creating a glorious echo. I screamed, “Yeeeeeeeee-hah!” with my arms still in the air.
As the tears continued to flow, I felt so strongly that the angel spirit of my daughter was looking down on me. And for that brief moment in time, the world broke through my sadness and I was able to appreciate how wonderful life can be.
It’s been three years since that Turkey Trot. Even though I was able to rediscover hope at that very difficult time in my life, I continued to struggle for many many months afterwards, and to be honest I still struggle to this day. But it was so beautiful and helpful to have that moment. Sitting here now, I can still feel the tears on my face and the hopefulness welling up within me, and I feel blessed to have experienced it.
And now I always think of my angel daughter every time I hear Somewhere over the Rainbow.