COLUMN: A letter to James Eric Davis Jr.
Dear James Eric Davis Jr.,
Hi. My name is Mike Nichols. We’ve never met, but I hope this letter finds you well. I’d like to tell you a story. I hope it helps.
Once upon a time, I had a grandma named Blanche. She was one of the strongest, most beautiful human beings I’ve ever known. She was hilarious, sharp and generous. You would have loved her, James, and I know she would have loved you, because she simply loved everyone; the most unconditionally loving woman the state of New Jersey ever produced.
My passion for writing goes all the way back to my days of drawing little picture books for her and countless days of her reading to me as a kid. When I got old enough, I started reading to her. Blanche's favorite books were the “Harry Potter” series. We read all seven books together, spending hours talking about magic, friendship, courage, and the true theme of those books: the ache of love beyond death.
I suspect you’re feeling that ache right now. I loved my grandma very much, just as I’m sure you loved your parents. You see, James, you’re not the only one who’s watched a family member die in front of you, although I admit our circumstances were vastly different.
I was holding my grandma’s hand when she died on July 3, 2011. We’d spent years helplessly witnessing Alzheimer’s disease steal her mind as her body betrayed her to a cruel fate. I still remember the sound of the death rattle leaving her lungs. Sometimes I dream about it.
It is a terrible thing to see death take your family.
It must feel unbearable to have caused it.
I’m sorry about your parents, James. I don’t know all the details of what happened, or what your mental state was when they were shot, but I promise I’m not judging you. My heart breaks for you. You’re an orphan because of what you did. And you’re going to have to live with that ache for the rest of your life.
But I want you to know your life still has hope, James. You’re not alone. Your brother and sister wrote how much they love you and want to help you, and I’m sure there are medical and legal professionals in your life who will be there too. Take their help. You’re young. It might seem impossible, but you can still have a good life. Your story isn’t over. I hope you find grace as you begin to write the next chapters.
On the Nichols family coat of arms there’s a Latin motto that reads “Illi Nunquam Cedunt.” Roughly translated it means “They never give up.” It’s been the battle cry of my rather pathetic life. Today’s my 31st birthday and on Saturday I’m finally getting my bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University. It took me 12 years because I’m a two-time college drop-out who finally came back as an old guy to finish. Honestly, man, it’s been the loneliest experience of my life.
Remembering that Latin motto has protected me through gloomy nights when I just wanted to die because I felt so isolated, worthless and miserable. Nights like that are dangerous because your mind starts guilting you with every bad choice you ever made to get to that point. You’re dealing with a depth of pain I can’t even imagine, but you still have a chance to learn and grow from a situation even as dark and painful as the one you’re in.
So, don’t give up James.
Don’t give up on your life because of what happened. And don’t give up on the hope that you could still make a difference for good in our world. I believe if your parents had survived, they would tell you this too. In a way, maybe this letter is how they are telling you.
There’s a quote by D.H. Lawrence that’s stayed with me:
“The dead don’t die. They look on and help.”
I hope you remember that on nights when you miss them most.
Somewhere in eternity, your mother and father still love you.
May your story find that love again someday.