I did not know Xander Wohlstadter, but I know his story and I know his mother.
Because I know his story and his mother, I know his heart.
I met Xander’s mother, Beth Lewandowski, more than a decade ago through a lawyer’s list serve of which we both were members. We taught a course together at our lawyers’ conference that year. Xander must have been a baby, since he tragically died in 2014 at the age of 20. An out-of-control intoxicated driver ended his life.
Though I never met Xander, I can say this: If he had his mother’s fire, it burned fiercely. If he had his mother’s tenderness, it rested gently on his shoulders.
This afternoon, I retrieved my mail just before driving into the desolate little town of Isleton to interview one of the local artists for my community’s blog. Among the junk, I saw a crisp white square from Beth. Ah, I thought to myself. Something official! An announcement, perhaps? A wedding invitation? I studied the St. Louis address, then tucked the envelope into my notebook and journeyed over the country roads.
But after I had parked, I pulled the piece back out and slit the flap. A photograph and a little clutch of stickers fluttered into my lap. Oh, geez.
I had forgotten my promise to take one of the stickers that Beth had made and place it near the Pacific Ocean in memory of Xander.
I stared at Xander’s picture and the little pile of hearts. Tears welled in my eyes. I cannot imagine losing my son, who turns twenty-eight tomorrow. What would I do? How would I survive? What meaning could I ever find in life, without that life in my life?
Yet Beth has done so. Xander loved to use his camera to record the beauty of this world, so Beth takes photographs. He rode a bike around St. Louis, so Beth does too. I realize as I write that I have no idea if Beth had any other children. I click over to her Facebook page and troll her listed family relationships. I see no one identified as progeny. I wrack my mind but cannot unearth that knowledge. I make a note to ask.
It doesn’t matter, really. She went on living, and I can tell from what I see that her life has been enriched by Xander’s heart. Pictures of sunsets, and rivers, and flowers, and the streets of St. Louis pepper the pages of her social media. In dying, Xander has drawn his mother’s eye to even more beauty than it might otherwise have known.
In a few weeks, I’ll be at the Pacific. I’ll find a place where I can place a sticker for Xander. It needs to face the sunset and the wide expanse of my beloved ocean. It must be somewhat protected, so it will endure despite the ravages of wind and time. I will get my friends to help me reach. I will peel away the backing, and place Xander’s heart upon that place. I will take a photograph for Xander’s mother. I will pause, for just a moment; and then, I will retrace my steps, and leave the spirit of him there.
It’s the seventh day of the sixty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]