My family loves meteor showers. We’ve been known to lie on blankets in empty parking lots in Danbury in the wee hours of the morning to have a big view of the night sky.
Meteors fascinate me because they are so rare and go streaking across the sky with such brilliance for such a brief time. The stars keep on twinkling up there all night long, but it’s the meteors we remember—those bursts of heavenly light that stir our very souls. And the best ones leave a tracer to remind us they were there.
I knew such a meteor once. His name was Hunter.
He burst into the sky of our lives in the late summer of 2009. Life was tough for my family at that time; I was in the process of a painful divorce while working long hours as editor of The Stokes News, struggling to homeschool my children and pay the bills from my meager salary.
Then came the news that a movie company was looking for homeschooled baseball players to appear in a Christian movie. My 13-year-old son Elijah and I headed to Winston-Salem for the tryouts. I was quickly struck by a tall, lovely woman who had also brought her son; for some reason, I felt compelled to meet her.
Imagine my surprise to find out she was a Stokes County gal and South Stokes alumnus like me! Wendy Hauser Sawyers and I gravitated toward each other, and so did our sons. Her baby boy Hunter was 12 and rather a late bloomer like my Elijah. To our joy, both of them were chosen for the movie!
Wendy and I spent many a long, hot day at baseball fields during the four weeks of filming—perched up on bleachers, pouring our hearts out to one another. Meanwhile, our sons were becoming close as well—playing their roles on the “bad-guy team” in the movie and playing pranks like sneaking off with the snack guy’s orange vest and snack bag and handing out treats to the actors!
As a protective mother, I was thrilled that Elijah had found a faithful friend in Hunter. This country boy from Pinnacle was everything I could’ve asked for—God-loving, baseball-playing, humble, polite, kind, thoughtful and full of wholesome fun. He had an infectious grin that tilted a little bit to the right and could light up a room.
Even after our movie days were done, we all remained close. Hunter wasn’t much on spending the night anywhere, so Elijah usually ended up going to the Sawyers’ home. Even now at age 21, he recalls those overnight stays as some of the best times of his life.
They did the things that boys do in the innocence of late childhood. They rode dirt bikes and four-wheelers, played pranks on Hunter’s older brother Chase, roamed the woods. I knew I didn’t have to worry about Elijah being with Hunter; even at that young age, Hunter had the light of God shining in him.
The spring of 2010 found our guys both playing middle school baseball for the Forsyth Home Educator Hawks. That meant months of nearly-daily practices and games—plenty of time for Elijah and Hunter to continue bonding and for Wendy and me to continue talking nearly nonstop! My divorce was now final, and in those mixed-up days when I wondered if anything would ever be right again, the friendship of the Sawyers family provided a stability and love that my family sorely needed.
The years dashed by, but our families’ bond remained strong. Elijah and Hunter both chose to play high school baseball for the newly-formed Carolina Tigers. Oh, the myriad hours that Wendy and I spent cheering on our sons—my baby boy Malachi picking us yellow dandelions; Wendy advising me to give the younger man who was pursuing me a chance (she was right—I’ve been married to him now for several years!); traveling to away games with her adorably lively mother, Pat, and bighearted dad, Wayne.
Elijah and Hunter had morphed from little middle-schoolers into tall high-schoolers. Boyish play had evolved into late-night laser bowling, dancing madly, making zany YouTube videos about their “epic adventures,” posing in SpongeBob underwear (over their clothes!) at Walmart. I even entrusted the Sawyers’ to take my precious son to the beach!
The friendship was very nearly perfect. Aside from typical playful wrestling, there were never any real fights. They did have some arguments over who would get the last piece of pizza…..but only because Hunter would insist that Elijah eat it. I marveled over Hunter’s constant unselfishness even during the often narcissistic teenage years.
A slight separation came in the later high school years when the Tigers folded, and the boys reluctantly chose different options to finish out their baseball careers—Elijah back to the FHE Hawks, Hunter to the Blue Jays in High Point. But the separation was only in miles, never in heart. Occasionally they would play each other, and after the game, Wendy and I would snap pictures of them hugging and clowning around in opposing uniforms—Hunter always #17, Elijah still his favorite #5.
Hunter went on to play basketball and become a cross country star for the Runnin’ Patriots in Surry County. Elijah’s path led him to competition hip-hop dancing in Forsyth. Their schedules didn’t allow a lot of time for fellowship, but their bond was unbreakable. Hunter popped into Sam’s Pizza to surprise Elijah for his 18th birthday, and Elijah was there in a black leather jacket and slicked-back hair for Hunter’s 1950’s-themed 18th birthday party.
One of my favorite memories is the late-August day in 2013 when Hunter went swimming with us at Homeplace. After a full day on the waterslide, diving board and rope, even teenage boys need rest. So in the late afternoon, Elijah and Hunter relaxed in the deep end of the pool, lying on their backs in the clear water, supported by their legs up on the concrete.
As I watched them float peacefully, basking in the golden sun, the feeling that came over me was so deeply poignant that I still can’t quite express it—like a surreal moment outside of time and the world. It was more than just the fact that the carefree innocence of days like this were numbered for these soon-to-be high school graduates. Somehow the preciousness of their bond—forged in boyhood, still strong in manhood—was being seared into my very soul as an enduring memory.
(I was to think back on that almost idyllic day many times in this very difficult past week.)
After graduation, Elijah and Hunter played baseball together again for a few months—on an adult team, still wearing their same numbers from childhood. But after that, with both of them working a few different part-time jobs and navigating serious relationships with girls, getting together was rarely an option. Still, they texted regularly and kept intending to meet up.
Both boys wanted to dedicate their lives to helping others. Elijah felt called to youth ministry, and Hunter was searching for a career that would allow him to be a blessing to people. Hunter loved to help folks in any way he could—mowing their yards, serving as a volunteer firefighter, always being one of the first to volunteer when anyone needed anything.
In the meantime, he fell in love with a beautiful girl whom he had known since they were toddlers at church. He absolutely adored her, and the feeling was mutual. His wedding proposal to her on the top of Hanging Rock during the total solar eclipse on August 21 ended up going viral via FOX 8 News, Facebook and other social media. When Hunter told lovely Elaina Bullard that the eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event and she was a once-in-a-lifetime girl, hearts all over the Piedmont Triad beat just a little bit faster.
Even during Hunter’s ultra-special wedding proposal to his girl, he and Elijah weren’t far apart—even though neither of them realized it. At that exact moment, my son was viewing the eclipse at the top of Moore’s Knob in the same state park. That night, Elijah sent a congratulatory text to Hunter—absolutely thrilled with the happiness of his best friend and the new fiancée.
Five days later, Elijah and I were at Mi Pueblo in King. In the many years I had eaten there, this was the first time I had been seated at the only window table in the restaurant. Looking back, I know that particular seat was a blessing.
Suddenly Elijah cried out, “There’s Hunter on a bicycle!” My son dashed out, sprinting through the parking lot to catch his pal.
They could only talk for a minute, but in his positive, caring style, Hunter said what he nearly always said when he hadn’t seen Elijah in a while, “You look good, man! You been working out?”
Elijah never saw Hunter alive again.
Less than two months later, my family was watching the Yankees play the Astros on what had been a typical Monday. A friend messaged me to ask if the Hunter Sawyers for whom everyone was requesting prayer was Elijah’s friend. I will never forget the chill that ran through my body.
I began to furiously scroll through my newsfeed. When I read that Hunter had been involved in a freak accident while working that morning and was in critical condition, I gasped and cried out, “Elijah, it’s Hunter! No, no, no—dear God, NO!” That night and the next day were filled with unceasing prayer for healing, but when Wendy called me on Tuesday afternoon, the report was not good.
Elijah and I rushed to the hospital where we saw family members leaving with tearstained faces. Life support was being removed, and the nurse informed us that no further visitors would be allowed. I saw my son’s face crumple in agony.
But Grandpa Wayne advised us to go wait for Hunter’s parents at the ICU doors. When Barry and Wendy came out—their grief absolutely heart-wrenching—they ended up comforting Elijah and getting permission for him to spend a few last minutes with the very best friend he has ever had.
I wasn’t in that Trauma ICU unit, but my son tells me that he stood weeping by Hunter’s body as the staff unhooked the tubes. He shook his friend’s hand one final time and told him that once he got to Heaven, too, if there was baseball there, he would be the first to throw with him—just as they once threw on a long-ago movie set as innocent little boys.
Hunter passed from this earthly life on the evening of October 17—just four days after turning 21.
Four days later, Elijah helped carry Hunter’s earthly remains to the gravesite where he whispered, “See you again one day, buddy” as he and the other pallbearers each placed a single rose on the casket. Beautiful, grief-stricken Elaina placed her bridal bouquet atop the wooden box. Theirs had been a storybook romance with a love that could be sensed even through their pictures and that inspired even married couples to love each other better.
Elaina and the others left behind are comforted by the knowledge that Hunter had a very real relationship with the Lord and is waiting on the other side where there is no pain, no heartache, no grief. Wendy told me that even in the midst of this unthinkable tragedy, she can feel the peace that passes understanding.
She and the rest of the family are grateful for the overwhelming outpouring of love from friends, neighbors and even strangers. They will never forget the kindness of the first responders or the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Trauma Unit staff who cared for Hunter with such love and provided excellent emotional care for the family.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t still need prayers and love in the coming days when the loss of Hunter becomes even more real in the resumption of day-to-day life. In this fallen world, things seem just a little darker after the loss of one who shone so vividly—as an obedient son, a loving brother, a faithful fiance, an answered prayer to future in-laws, a thoughtful grandson who had chosen to spend his 21st birthday with family at his grandparents’ house.
But I recall the words of Wendy as she emerged from the ICU. She looked at my son and said in desperation, “Hunter was a light in this world. Elijah, you are, too. You can’t let my boy’s light go out. It’s the passing of the torch. You take my son’s light and let it shine bright!”
I will never forget those words from the heart of a grieving mother. My life was changed, and so was my son’s.
Wendy later told me she believes we all possess a light and that she hopes those who knew Hunter will take what he showed them, how he made them feel, and his passion to help others, and keep his light shining brightly. It is no surprise that Hunter’s favorite Bible verse was John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
I am thankful that Hunter was my son’s friend. In a tribute that Elijah wrote on his blog, he said: “I’ll never forget the many times Wendy and Barry told me, ‘It’s just like God brought you…to Hunter.’ I think they were wrong. God brought Hunter to me. He was a friend to a nerdy, socially-awkward and anxious kid that so desperately needed a friend…He was a light that burned bright. Even if it was only for a short time.”
Sounds like a meteor, doesn’t it? Hunter was a flaming flash of brightness that went streaking across the sky of our lives, blinding us with beautiful light before disappearing into eternity. He left his tracer on the souls of us who are left behind to walk the old paths of this world. And we know that Hunter’s light will not go out, for it is the eternal Light of Christ’s love.
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.