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From country to city, From farm to fireworks…Through marriage & children, Through employment & ownership, Life continues to be an amazing journey…

Thursday, January 26

Florida Crash Kills 7 - Grandpa Dies - WHY OH WHY?

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Bear with me people. Tonight’s main post will be lengthy, but maybe one of the most important reads of your life. Go to the bathroom, mix a stiff drink, grab some coffee, have a cigarette, or do whatever you do before you sit back, read something important, and ready yourself to pay attention…

LIFE DEFINING MOMENTS… Wow! You know, we all have them, and you never know when they will come, and what direction they will take. The most awe-inspiring thing about life defining moments is the fact that they usually…no almost always...occur in a split second. And… sometimes it’s a long time later that you realize that a past split second occurrence was indeed a life defining moment. I do not know this woman that just lost most of her entire family in a wretched life defining moment (see news link-click here). There are no words to describe this tragedy. There are no words to convey the horror of an experience like this. If I did know her, I would grab her in my arms and hold her tightly. I would share with her the story that I am about to share with you. We are always taught to find the good in any situation as opposed to the bad, but gee…sometimes that is the challenge of a lifetime. I will not in this situation even pretend to boast that “oh, friend…I know how you feel…it will be OK”… it won’t be OK for her for a long, long time. But, I have experienced an atrocity similar to this from the other side of the fence… the “good” side of the fence, and it truly was A LIFE DEFINING MOMENT FOR ME. If anyone reading this should happen to know this woman…please forward this on to her at a time when she may be accepting of it’s true meaning and effect.

MY STORY GOES: Many years ago, I left Reno as a fledgling casino “rookie-on-the-move”. Mississippi had just enacted a legal gaming law, and “they” were all on the search to hire quality management executives to lead the way. I was accepted, and off I went. I thought, hey… Mississippi isn’t so much unlike Texas…the south...I’ll go. That experience led me to a world unlike any other I’d ever experienced. As much as I truly loved about the Deep South, I also found things I disliked. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever lived, but the deep rooted history there and the ways of the locals leaves an imprint on your soul you will carry with you forever.

I worked in a huge casino that was a “Cinderella” story of the new gaming south. My location was 50 miles from New Orleans, and had a “dream-come-true” statistic average for demographic results for profit. I found myself a fairly major player in managing employees in an environment they had never seen before. Needless to say, these kids I was teaching to deal, manage, learn a whole new way of life, created many emotional ups and downs for all of us. We all know that in the Deep South, education doesn’t rank high, and literacy is not at top notch. It was hard to find really good people, and the demand was ever increasing. Then, along came Scott Dembrowski.

This young man would have been a breath of fresh air anywhere in the world he would have chosen to go. Already in my 30’s, even I could see that this kid barely old enough to deal was a “babe”. But not your usual drop dead gorgeous type of guy. He was real. He came from a fairly prominent “old money” family, deep rooted in goodness and quality. He had manners, he learned quickly, and was an absolute favorite among managers. Time went by, and he met a girl. A plain girl he fell for. She was the quiet debonair debutant type girl. The girl that in the deep south you could picture sitting on the pillared porch sipping on a mint julep planning the next huge fund raising function. But she wasn’t that type at all. She was just real too, and simple, and just good to the core. More time goes by, and they marry. A simple fairy-tale type marriage that you just knew would last forever.

There were almost 3000 employees in this casino complex I worked in. There was NOT ONE of these 3000 that didn’t know directly, or know of Scott Dembrowski and his new bride. He was so happy. He loved her so much, and she loved him in return. Their joy, and the way they lived their lives graced all of us with hope that life is good and trees bloom with happiness. They were the type that would celebrate an anniversary of any given event, and although a lot of us jibed them a bit, or would flat out give them shit over their “goofiness” in their relationship, internally we were all jealous of the fact that this type of union is rare and should be guarded as holy.

Two months after the marriage (the courtship was long and proper, with an appropriate lengthy southern engagement); they were again celebrating the “two month anniversary” of their marriage. She was preparing him a great meal, but found herself short a few ingredients. I remember the day so clearly over 10 years later. We were busy, and he had pulled some overtime and was tired, but happy to get home to be with her. He graciously and immediately calmed her newlywed anxiety over not having everything she needed and off he went to the store. Driving down the beautifully tree-lined roads of Mississippi to the store, he got hit by a train crossing some tracks and was killed instantly.

The news hit the casino the next day like a bomb hitting Iraq. I couldn’t believe in a huge corporate setting like the one I was in the devastating somber looks on everyone’s faces. I had no idea that this young man had touched so many lives through his simple way of living. Customers, employees, and executives alike were silent for days, weeks on end. It was unexplainable how someone so full of life, so “perfect” in the way he lived in an environment that promotes drinking, gambling, and extremism could be taken away in a split second.

I am a person of strong faith. I have always believed that God has His way, and that our time comes and that is the final decision, but even I was having a hard time swallowing this blow. I never saw so many people affected by an “average Joe’s” death. I knew I loved him just because he was so awesome, but I never realized that THOUSANDS of other people, many bad and degenerate, many uppity and rich, and many atheists, agnostics, and on and on loved him as much as I. This was a massive non-partisan grief. It started an uproar of discussions I carry with me today.

Being a person of faith, many people lashed out at me over the way that I explained Scott’s death. I was asked over and over and chastised about my belief that there IS a GOD. “If there REALLY IS a God”, they would say...”Explain to us how a God would let something like this happen to Scott?”. I would again and again explain to them that I do not believe God is cruel, and that bad things do happen to good people. I would say that it was just his time, and that God called him home because He needed him in Heaven, and so forth and so on… but my explanations while soothing to those I counseled as a manager, never quite satisfied me as the “explainer”.

After four years on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, I eventually returned to Reno where I came from before. I still carried Scott with me, and would from time to time think of him fondly. My best friend in Reno has spent many hours over the years discussing “LIFE”. She lives on the Truckee River, and it’s so healing to sit on her patio and sip cocktails and just chill. We commonly “solve the World’s problems” while sitting there, silent for spans of time, and overly chatty on other spans of time. It was one of these nights that we solved the “World’s problem” regarding Scott Dembrowski. I was sharing my story with her, and mentioned to her that I could never find the words to help all of those people completely that had sought out my advice after his death. Now a business owner, I felt like I had failed my employees in Mississippi somehow by not being able to answer their real question, “What Is The Meaning Of Life?”.

Now…fortunately for me, my beloved best friend M here in Reno is actually old enough to be my mother. And to my amazement, when I proposed this dilemma to her…she didn’t bat an eye. She is also a career casino person, and she calmly said, “Malinda, honey it’s simple.” I said, “SIMPLE? How is a story like Scott’s simple?” She said, “You were asking me what is the meaning of life? That is simple.” My reaction was to have another stiff drink and listen to THIS barrage of ramble. Then my best friend gave me a life defining moment. Again, in a split second. She placidly said to me while looking forward to the rushing Truckee River, “Honey, at any given time…we are either here to learn, or we are here to teach. On that day on those train tracks, Scott was there to teach.” I sat there sipping my cocktail staring at the same river, and knew in my heart that she was right. Not only was she right, SHE HAD JUST TAUGHT ME THE MEANING OF LIFE. Now folks, that is some powerful information to have!

I knew that all this time, I had a peace within me about Scott Dembrowski’s death, but I wrote it off to faith and religion. That’s also the time that I realized that “religion” and “faith” are also synonyms for common sense in a spiritual way. It’s true. I realized that Scott WAS THERE ON THAT DAY TO TEACH 3000 PEOPLE! I know that TODAY...12 years later…on each occasion that I EVER CROSS TRAIN TRACKS…I think of Scott Dembrowski. I know that every time I cross a train track and remember to look twice and be careful, I also catch myself fondly remembering the phenomenal positive impact this young man made on my life. While I’m being careful, I am lifted up with goodness and remind myself of joy, and mint juleps, and the calming breeze in the wind of the South. Scott Dembrowski saved 3000 people from ever being hit by a train. And each time we don’t get hit by a train, we are reminiscent of goodness and purity. That is a legacy that few people leave on this world.

Thank you all for reading this far, as I can ramble on and on. But I want that woman in Florida to know, and KNOW FOR SURE IN HER HEART OF HEARTS, that her loved ones were NOT lost in vain. Her story has made NATIONAL NEWS, and all of us bleed tears for her and the survivors of the crash. This story on normal scales is much worse than my story of Scott. But, I truly believe that it only means the lives lost will have an even greater impact on those closely involved. Let’s also not discard the horror of the truck driver that hit them. I would also like to take him in my arms and hold him closely and share with him Scott Dembrowski’s story. All of these people were at that moment here to teach, thus carrying on the meaning of life, and giving the world a LIFE DEFINING MOMENT. May the dead rest in peace, and may the living find peace in knowing that those they loved touched millions.