Right now, I'm sitting in my cousins living room over 2,000 miles away from my own home. My cousin is off working the "hoot owl" or night shift in the coal mines a little over an hour away. I'm sitting here smiling listening to his son, Cole (get it? Coal mines. Cole. hehe) as he's in his room talking to his friends on his headset. It wasn't an easy thing for me to get here, but I had an overwhelming sense that I just needed to do it. In four more days, Cole will be sworn in to the United States Army. He is the oldest child and only son of my first cousin Eric and his wife Angie. Eric has become not just my cousin, but my brother. The last few years we have formed an incredible bond that I thought I would never have with any one else after my cousin (on the other side of my family), Daniel died almost 5 years ago. I grew up with Daniel, and we were like peas and carrots. Always so close, always together, always loving each other. Even as our lives took different paths. For almost 5 years I have grieved over him and I have grieved over having a bond with someone so strong that not even death could break it. God has really shown me how He will restore what has been stolen from you. I won't ever be able to replace Daniel, but I have been able to love enough to form a relationship with someone else that is just as strong. Eric is not just my cousin. He's the male version of me. He is like an extension of myself. He is my brother. His children have become like little siblings or nieces and nephew to me. This is a big change in their lives, and it only seemed fitting that I be here in the middle of it as well.
A few months ago, we were making plans for Cole to come live with us for a while. Where he lives in West Virginia, there are no jobs other than the coal mines or teaching school. My family here has been in the coal mines for over 100 years in some form or fashion and it seems there have been several in the last generations that have wanted better for their sons than to be crawling on their hands and knees for hours on end, working one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet with both their lungs and skin covered in black dust. My grandma made my Dad promise he wouldn't follow in his father's footsteps and that's why my Dad finally had to make the heartbreaking decision to leave the mountains he loved. Dad joined the army and eventually met my Mom in Oklahoma. After they were married, they came back and Dad tried to live here and support his family outside of the mines, but it just couldn't be done. Over 40 years later, not much has changed where that's concerned. Cole was wanting to find something else to do, somewhere else to go, something that his amazingly brilliant mind could be challenged and his desire for adventure could be fulfilled. He thought moving west sounded like the ideal plan, but eventually he couldn't ignore what his heart has been telling him to do for years...the army. He had tried several times before, but promised he would finish college and he put off taking the big step in signing paperwork. As smart as he is, the professional student thing just wasn't for him and he took the plunge and called a recruiter for the last time. He was told boys from his area don't generally test very high, but his scores were so impressive he sailed through it. He feels he is doing what just comes naturally for him to do. Remembering what it's like to try and figure your way around this world, I can respect that. Thinking forward to how I would feel if that was the decision one of my baby boys were to make, I look at it differently. It's a bittersweet thing for me.
Cole Lester is the kind of man every Momma prays her boy grows to be. I can sit and talk with him and in less than 10 minutes, my face hurts from laughing. Today, I belly laughed in a way that I haven't done since last August when I saw him last. He is always thinking of a plan, always has a way figured out to do something extraordinary, always has an insanely funny story to tell, always has a smile on his face, and almost always has food in his hand. See? That last part must be hereditary. Without a doubt, he will figure out a way to be successful with whatever it is he wants to do in life. I'm blessed to know him and love him and I'm excited for this new chapter to his life story he is beginning to write. It just seemed right for me to be here, even if someone thinks it wrong that I left my family to fend for themselves for a few days. I'm here to support Cole in his decision and here to love on my brother and his wife as parents. I have been thinking about flying out ever since Cole told us he was joining. I finally put the thought out of my mind because it just seemed like a wild idea, but a few weeks ago, Eric posted something on Facebook (he doesn't post very often) and it said something to the effect of how important family was, and you always need to be there for each other, tell them how you love them, and support one another. That sealed the deal for me. I knew I needed to try. I asked Brent what he thought about it and while I knew how it would be a huge inconvenience to him, he didn't balk at all. He understood and he knew why. I'm thankful to be here right now. I'm thankful to be here to send off one of my most favorite people ever.
Right now, I'm sitting here imagining what kind of a world this would be if we had more young men like Cole. I know for sure it would be a lot happier of a place.