I have a favorite memory of him. It was following an outdoor ‘revival style’ church service at Cedar Ridge Camp, a joint worship celebration we have every Autumn with the good folks of Peace Pres. My children had been down at the pond with him, playing in the mud and hunting for frogs. Families gradually gathered at the tables in the eating hall–ready to dig into our boxed lunches of fried chicken. He sat at the table next to us, his chair almost touching mine. “Psssst,” I heard (followed by snickering)… so I turned to look in his direction. That’s when my favorite memory of him happened. Grinning with that joyful boyish grin of his, Charles Gant pulled a frog out of his pants pocket.
On June 4th, 2014, on my father Charles’ 74th birthday, and on the day following the 5th anniversary of Charles Gant’s journey into Eternal Life, our son Henry was given the Charles Gant Science Award.
Sitting in a dim auditorium, looking down on the 5th grade classes below, I listened as our Principal introduced the award. Completely unexpectant, I knew whomever received it would be blessed by it–a tangible remembrance of Charles.
In the 2011-2012 school year, Dunn created a Science Award in memory of former student, Charles Gant. Charles had a curious nature, had a great love of the outdoors and anything that involved critters and bugs and was a scientist at heart. In remembrance of Charles, The Charles Gant Science Award is presented each year to two fifth grade students who demonstrate curiosity and a love of nature, higher order thinking skills and who use scientific thinking to work on solving real world problems. This year we are proud and honored to remember Charles in presenting this award to two students who demonstrate his passion for science.
Our first recipient demonstrates a deep love and respect for all living things in the natural world– and his innate curiosity drives him to learn as much as possible about the world around him. He loves to spend time outdoors, and fishing is one of his favorite pastimes. This young man couples his love of nature with a gift for artwork that includes sketches of lizards– and you won’t be surprised to know that his love of all things reptilian is evident in YouTube videos starring his pet snake. He brings out the best in everyone around him when he shares his passion for reptiles and nature with his classmates, and we know if Charles were here, he and Henry Doyle in Mrs. Doll’s class would be the best of friends! Henry, please come forward to receive your award.”
Tears. Floods of them. On the surface, it’s just an award for a kid who loves nature. But for our family and for anyone who knew Charles, its significance digs so much deeper than any plaque could ever convey.
When Charles Gant was 8 years old, he left this world to be with Jesus. While on this earth, Charles was an avid explorer…lover of all things nature. Bugs, frogs, lizards, you name it. If it crawled or hopped or slithered, it was good. He was one with the outdoors, always discovering and sharing joy in Creation– a true poster child for Nature. And he was an overall outstanding kid with an amazing family, whom we are blessed to call friends. Our community was obviously shocked and shattered when Charles died. But together we vow to keep his memory alive, in all the little ways that end up making a big difference. We talk about Charles quite a bit, actually, because that’s just what you do when someone is alive in your hearts.
There have been dozens of times when Henry has done things that remind me of Charles. Like when Henry was Walking Through Fountains to rescue newly-released butterflies. As symbols of new life, butterflies have significant meaning in regards to Charles– they have become his symbol, if you will. I doubt there’s a person who attended the Celebration of Life for Charles in June 2009– and the butterfly release at the close of his service– who doesn’t think of Charles whenever they see a butterfly. The loss is heart-wrenching, but the hope in new life is heart-freeing.
The beloved P.E. teacher at our children’s elementary school knew Charles well. And much like Charles was to everyone, he was also special to Mr. Murphy. Mr. Murphy shared a story with me after Henry received his award:
This past Tuesday was the five year mark since Charles passed. At school, the gym was needed to host a book expert from the Louisville Free Public Library, so outside each of my classes went. I spent ALL MORNING looking for a butterfly to say hello to, but never saw one. Then, as I’m taking Ms Doll’s class out to the field, Henry goes running down the hill like a madman…. To chase after what might have been the biggest, most beautiful yellow butterfly I’ve ever seen. And ya know, I have my own personal reservation about God & the after life, but at THAT MOMENT, well… All I could was stop in my tracks, chuckle, & throw my palms up like, “OK. OK. I get it!”
Heaven sends us reminders.
Open your eyes.
Free your mind so that you can see.
The morning of 5th Grade Recognition, Henry was transformed into Steve Irwin– “The Crocodile Hunter”– for his class wax museum. Weeks earlier, when Henry told me who he wanted to be, I smiled… recalling another little boy who dressed up as Steve Irvin one year for Halloween. Charles. It was great fun seeing Henry totally in his element the morning of June 4th.
There are many uncanny threads to Charles, including Henry’s special relationship with our former next door neighbor, Dr. Coy, the one who taught us valuable Lessons from a Paw Paw Tree. Dr. Coy knew and loved Charles well, as he was medical partners with Charles’ grandfather. After Henry was given his award, someone mentioned to me that Dr. Coy and Charles were ‘up there’ orchestrating their plan together. Heaven sends us reminders.
There is a meaningful community event envisioned by Charles’ parents the year after his passing. It’s a fundraiser for our local (and amazing) Kosair Children’s Hospital, in memory of Charles and in honor of children being served by Kosair. (This year alone, a net of $ 382,000 was raised for Kosair Children’s Hospital through the Bourbon & Bowties event!) You can grasp the essence of what it’s about and hear from Charles’ parents in this beautiful tribute video. One of the highlights is that a custom bow tie is created for the event, representative of the child it honors. The first bow tie, designed by Charles’ family, features frogs and dragonflies. (A fitting tribute.) Well, as Henry was preparing for 5th grade graduation, he knew he wanted to wear a bow tie. I was on the cusp of buying him one when my husband reminded me that he himself had plenty of bow ties. “He should wear Charles’ tie,” he suggested. Yes, Perfect, I thought. Little did we know the significance at the time, but it would hit us like a lightning bolt later that evening–as Henry walked across the stage to receive his Charles Gant Science Award, wearing his Charles Gant bow tie. Heaven sends us reminders.
While on this earth, there will always be unanswered questions as to why things happen as they do– especially when devastating events happen to the most innocent, our children. And having never suffered such loss, I have no authority in writing about it. But I can write about what I hope… and what I hope is that there will always be beauty somewhere deep, deep, deep in the messy. I am not referring to the cliché title of this blog, but I’m speaking of the gritty, gut-wrenching reality of life’s darkest moments. The beauty doesn’t happen in that darkness, but through the years… in what is to come. At least this is my hope.