Being so far away from home for the last 16 years, my Easters have often been spent in Charleston and away from my family due to travel time and expenses.
I can remember a few Easters when I was newly out of college without out any official Easter plans aside from going to church and maybe grabbing a quick lunch somewhere. Those weren't very memorable aside from the memory of feeling a bit lonely knowing that my family was in another state and celebrating without me.
Over time I decided that I'd start hosting a friends' Easter gathering for whoever might be in town and without family to help them celebrate the special day. From that first friends' Easter on, I quickly learned that there were quite a few others out there in the same boat as me and a new tradition was vetted.
Some years I'd have mostly friends attend, other years were mostly made up of Citadel cadets who worked for me and didn't have the chance to go home. Every year, however, consisted of great food, adult Easter eggs hunts where we'd regress back to our childhood and run around like crazy people looking for eggs and candy, all the while, forming our own little friend-family memories.
The last Easter that I was able to host, one of my favorite cadets attended (although I wasn't supposed to have a favorite as the boss, so let's keep that between us;). Will was a comedian, to say the least, and was often larger than life. I had recently promoted him to a cadet supervisor because he was now a senior and a strong fundraiser, but often times I'd have to remind him, while I tried to not laugh myself, that he was there to establish order and not to create humorous chaos. He made my job fun every single day. He'd surprise me with McGriddles, he'd text me jokes, plop into my office chair and talk about his family, and some of my favorite times were talking with him about girls and relationships. He loved the ladies.
During our meal that Easter Sunday, Will was once again entertaining our guests, and in a moment of animation during his story, he jumped up from the table and startled the dog so bad that it bit his leg. Blood was drawn, jeans were torn, but Will kept on laughing. I felt horrible as the host, but it was definitely a memorable Easter together and one that he never let me live down. He claimed the dog was "a racist" and had planned the attack from the get go.
Last year while lying in bed one morning, I got a text that made me sit straight up and is still ingrained in my memory. Our funny, sweet Will had been in a one car accident the night before and was gone. He was only 24 years old and he was gone. I couldn't breathe for a few minutes. I had just seen him a few months before when he came back to Charleston for a visit and he was so happy. How could he be gone? He was one of "my kids" on campus and I'd never get another joke from him again nor would I ever get to give him girl advice again. It just wasn't right.
As I sat through his funeral and heard story after story of this comedian who had won over the hearts of so many, I couldn't help but think of Easter in my home together. I was so thankful for that afternoon when a boss/employee relationship became what felt like a family tie as we prayed, ate and ran around my backyard like fools and fought over eggs. He's in a better place now, where Easter and everything we celebrate this Sunday, isn't just a meal and event, but is something much much bigger. Thanks to knowing Will and sharing that special holiday with him, this holiday will always be a little more special and real for me.
I've thought a lot about you this week, Big Willie, and I miss you. I actually see people all the time that look just a tad like you, even if it's just their polo shirts, and for a second I think maybe it's you. The good news is that I know I'll see you again. Some day we'll share jokes and a McGriddle again (cause ya'll know my theory on McGriddles in Heaven).
Celebrate with our Lord for us during this special time of resurrection, hope, and rebirth. And if there's a huge, holy, golden egg hunt up there, look out, everyone. I doubt Will will tone it down for you. He's always been in to win it and his laugh can charm you into handing over your entire Easter basket loot. Trust me.