These woods: A place of hope in a time of darkness

This is the path I took the other day when I learned a sixteen-year-old boy from our community died five days after he slipped during a hike and hit his head. I did not know Blake Driskell, but it was impossible to ignore his struggle. Purple signs proclaiming “Blake Strong” lined the streets of Addison, NY, where he was a well-known student and athlete.

Prayer requests filled social media pages, posted by people in his school district and in ours. A GoFundMe account quickly raised thousands of dollars for his family. I felt his loss. Not in the same way as those who knew him, but I felt touched by him.

A hike on our hill seemed like a good way to process it along with the recent murder of George Floyd, which brought back memories of a similar killing I covered as a journalist in 1995, that of Jonny Gammage at the hands of police in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA.

I walked seeking life.

I didn’t know that while I walked a friend was making funeral arrangements for her 26-year-old daughter, a mother of three young boys, who died at home. I had only met Bethany Leach once, but I knew that her mother loved her immensely. I knew that Bethany had been struggling and that her parents had endured a great deal of pain and heartache as they did their best to help her through it.

My heart aches for my friend and her family, and especially for those three boys.

So these photos are for all of you: Blake Driskell, George Floyd, Jonny Gammage and Bethany Leach. They are a celebration of life in a dark time, a promise of hope and renewal, hope that communities large and small will heal in time and flourish again.

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