In September of 2020, I sat in my back corner office of Mudhouse Coffee at the same table where I wrote A Year of Playing Catch. I scrolled through pictures and stories about Ethan C. Bryan, a 16-year-old student at West County High School in Park Hills, Missouri who loved baseball and music. In September of 2020, Ethan died in an automobile accident on the way home from baseball practice.
I have met a few other Ethans in my life. I always ask if they know what their name means. It’s a name of Hebrew origin that means, “strong.” There’s even an Ethan in the Bible who was a musician, a singer and friend of King David. He wrote Psalm 89.
I have never met another Ethan Bryan.
So, in September of 2020, I was sitting at my back corner office of Mudhouse Coffee and working on compiling a list of reviews of A Year of Playing Catch to send to my publisher as the book had just published. I typed my name into Google to help me find one review I remembered reading. That Google search pulled up Ethan’s obituary.
We are experts at distracting ourselves from our own mortality. We exercise and don’t eat what we want to eat and go to work while delaying chasing dreams all in hopes of circling the sun a few more times. But, tomorrow is not guaranteed. “Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” wrote Ethan in Psalm 89.
I blinked back tears and wiped my nose several times as I read and re-read Ethan’s obituary.
Billy Joel once sang, “Only the good die young.” Billy Joel was wrong.
There is a profound sense of injustice whenever a child dies. Questions of what could have been and regret for what will never be are immediately thrust into a parent’s heart. Whenever a young person dies, we are reminded of the fragility and the true gift that is Life.
As I read the obituary and found other stories of Ethan, I was proud to share a name with this young man who loved baseball like I do, who genuinely seemed to be a generous and kind friend to all. My heart, however, was broken for his parents who were now living my worst nightmare.
I am an intuitions-and-ideas kind of guy. I trust my instincts and passionately pursue the dreams and ideas that consume my waking moments. I’m still trying to make 4-year-old me proud, the me who dreamed of playing baseball for the Kansas City Royals. Yesterday, my daughter forwarded me a link to Ben Rector’s song, Dream On. It was the first time I heard what will now be my theme song for the foreseeable future.
When the world says you’re crazy
Just tell them they’re wrong and dream on
After reading the obituary, I had this deep soul feeling that I needed to do something. And the only thing I could think to do was send an email to the principal of Ethan’s high school and offer a copy of my book to give to his parents.
I did not plan on reading my namesake’s obituary this morning.
If it would help, I would be honored to send Ethan’s parents a copy of my book.
I am so sorry for the loss in your community. The death of a student is always hard.
I know it sounds stupid, but I mean it with all sincerity, if there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.
More than a year later, on December 31, 2021, Dan Bryan, Ethan’s dad, called me.
He wanted to play 365 games of catch in honor of Ethan. He wanted to make sure it was okay with me.
I know full well the power of a therapy game of catch.
In A Year of Playing Catch, I wrote, “We play and honor the stories of those who touched us through the stories we dare to live.”
Dan took a parent’s worst nightmare and dared to live a beautiful story.
Tomorrow, March 30, I’ll be in Park Hills, Missouri (768 Highway M, Park Hills, MO 63601), doing a storytelling and signing books to benefit the Ethan Bryan Memorial Scholarship Fund. Refreshments are at 4:30, with the storytelling starting at 5:30 and the signing to follow.
But, before all of that, I’ll be playing catch with Dan.
Because I am convinced that with every game of catch, a little more heaven breaks into earth.