By Tim Crowley
CBN.com - It’s that time
of year again when the cool morning gently reminds me that the
archery season is right around the corner. For us bow hunters,
it’s a feeling akin to the armchair quarterback’s
anticipation of the start of the NFL season. There’s nothing
like spending time in the woods for therapeutic reasons…
and the chance for a clean shot at a nice buck is value-added.
This year marks the first time in five years that I’ve been
in the woods and the first year that I will be using a new bow—not
just any bow, but the bow that belonged to my best friend and
outdoors partner, Maj. Frederick (“Rick”) Watkins,
killed March 3, 2001, in a tragic airplane accident that claimed
the lives of Rick and 20 other National Guardsman. The Virginia
guardsmen were members of the 203rd Red Horse Flight and were
flying home through heavy rain after two weeks of annual training
at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
I remember well the day Rick died. We were having a barbeque at
our new home in Virginia Beach and he was scheduled to arrive
in Rick-like fashion, clad in black motorcycle leather from head
to foot and zipping up into the yard on his new ride. Rick loved
life. He loved the outdoors with a passion, and everything we
did outdoors we did together. Whether hunting, hiking, camping,
fishing, or canoeing, Rick was by my side. I always told my wife
that if I were ever in a dangerous or challenging situation of
any sort, it would be Rick that I would want standing with me.
He could do about anything, and if he couldn’t, he’d
find a way to get it done. He was strong, brave, and smart. I
miss Rick, and I have never been able to replace him, though I
have tried. Nobody has come close.
Strangely, only months before Rick’s death, he had redone
his will, and in it he willed to me his hunting equipment, gun
and bow. It was as if he somehow knew it was his time to go. The
gun, a beautiful 45-70, I keep mounted on my fireplace mantle,
a daily reminder of my friend. The bow I keep in the attic.
It was a month ago I ventured up to the attic, and out of the
corner of my eye, I saw the bow there. I went over to dust it
off. The memories of our hunts together came back so strongly
that I vowed then and there to get myself back into the game.
The first thing I did was to take the bow outside and begin the
process of sighting it in. For those not familiar with compound
bows, this can be a lengthy process of readjusting all of the
sight pins. Sight pins are, in essence, the same thing as a rifle
scope on a gun, and used for accuracy at varying distances. It’s
very important to have them properly adjusted. Each hunter has
a different setting of pins based on one’s size, arm length,
head position, and the way one pulls back the string.
To start the long process of sighting in the bow, I decided to
just try Rick’s first pin from close range and see where
it went. My first shot, at 10 yards, hit straight, but high. I
quickly deduced that Rick’s first pin was set at 20 yards.
Feeling confident, I immediately went to 20 yards, where I scored
a dead-on shot. Really feeling cocky, I stepped back to 30 yards
and let a shot go on Rick’s second pin. I scored another
great shot. Rick and I were the same size, and I quickly figured
out that his pins were set for 20, 30, and 40 yards, and I didn’t
have to make a single adjustment to the bow. His pins were set
perfectly for me. A task I thought would be a couple of hours
took all of 10 minutes, and after having some fun shooting, I
put it back in its case. Thanks, Buddy.
There are times in life when we may wonder why God lets certain
things happen. It’s part of life. I don’t know why
God allowed that plane to go down. I’ve heard the oft-used
explanation that God thought my friend Rick was so special that
He wanted to be with him. Maybe, but I personally don’t
buy that one. God has eternity. I don’t think a few extra
years means anything to God. I don’t know why Rick and the
others died that day. Some say that there’s a reason for
everything, and I don’t buy that one either. There are consequences
and life changes that happen as a result of tragedy. There are
ways we respond to tragedy and things we learn, but let’s
face it, there are just no understandable earthly reasons for
everything that happens. It’s a broken world. Mosquitoes
bite, hurricanes come, and planes crash. To quote Job, “God
giveth, and God taketh away.” We don’t know why, and
there is no simple answer or apparent reason.
What I do know is that God’s ways are often mysterious,
and everything that happens is part of His purpose and plan. Isaiah
55:8-9 explains fairly clearly that God’s ways are not our
ways. They are higher and better. And knowing that this tragedy
is part of the divine plan, and that the changes brought about
by the accident have eternal value, to me, is much more important
than having a reason for why it happened. In the course of this
life, some unfortunate things have to happen to fulfill God’s
purpose and plan. I trust completely that Rick’s death had
an eternal purpose, and one day I will see it clearly.
I am sad that at 35 years old, it was Rick’s time to go.
I am sad that there are so many things he didn’t get to
see and do. Especially, he never got to see his two beautiful
boys grow up and teach them the passion he had for the outdoors.
He never got to teach them to fish or to hunt. Rick used to harass
me about not being able to sire a son. He had two boys, and I
had two girls. I am disappointed that he never got to meet my
son when he was born. But my son, whose middle name is Frederick,
will one day know that his dad had a very special friend, will
hear stories of what we did together, and will know how much I
miss Rick. I don’t know why he’s gone, but I am so
grateful for the time I had.
For the first time in five years I will venture back into the
woods. It’s what Rick would want me to do. Wish me luck.
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