As I write this post, my eyes once again begin to water. It’s been four and a half years since I talked with Dalta, five since the last thing I remember of her. Yet, despite this, she is still constantly changing my life.
I will always remember that night when I heard the news. I was working at Triple R Ranch as a camp counselor and my cabin was out having a cookie and milk party by a fire. I felt my phone vibrate and I looked down to see a text from my dad… I didn’t save the text but I remember exactly where I was sitting when I read the following: “Dalta was was hit by a car on her way home from class. She was killed on impact.” It’s even now surreal to even think about those words. And after all this time, I want to talk about it.
Unfortunately, there is no way for me to really do this post justice, as the girl I want to talk about is beyond words. In fact, I don’t know if she’d even want me to give her any credit for how great she really was, for it truly was Jesus Christ working in her that produced such a magnificent person and she knew it.
Dalta and I both entered college at the same time and since we are Pates [my mom’s parents], we both obligatorily attended Auburn University. She entered into the Airforce ROTC program, and I got right to work trying desperately to figure out my place in the world. Though we lived just a parking lot away from each other my Freshman year, we rarely talked. We definitely could have though. Dalta was the kind of girl who had straight A’s all through her educational days [She was nicknamed “4.0” in her flight] and yet, despite being SO dedicated to her studies, she had her priorities completely in check. Her friends and family came before her schooling and she lived this out unapologetically. She was devoted to others in a way I’ve rarely seen since. She was… present. She was there. She was real. She was warm, and caring, and everything a cousin should be.
In January of 2011, my grandfather [Superdad] passed away from brain cancer. Since we practically lived next to each other, Dalta and I drove to the ceremony together. As we were beginning to pull off campus, I will NEVER forget what she said to me. I believe I was telling her how I wished that my classes were more of a challenge. I was a psychology major in college and while I’m sure at some schools it can be quite challenging… it unfortunately isn’t at Auburn… She looked over at me and just said so plainly, “Daniel, you are way to smart to be a psychology major. Why don’t you go into medicine?” Of course, what I do not want anyone to think is that my cousin didn’t like psychology majors. She really just believed in me SO MUCH, saw my compassion for people, and wasn’t willing to silently let me sit in mediocrity when she believed I had more. She saw in me an ability that I didn’t even know existed and she lovingly pressured me in that direction.
Fast forward one year. It’s my twentieth birthday and I get a card from Dalta. It’s the last letter I ever received from her and I’ve never shown it to anyone. But I know that Dalta would have wanted her story to impact the world and so here it is.
“Daniel, Happy 20th Birthday!! I love you so very much and know that whatever you decide to do with your life, you will be amazing at it. I am so proud to call you my cousin, friend, and brother in Christ. I hope you have an amazing semester. I am always here for you if you ever want to talk or just want someone to do something crazy with. Dalta”
In a world where people can spend twenty minutes talking about themselves without ever REALLY caring about the person they talked to… Dalta was a rare diamond. She cared so deeply about me… even though we barely even talked. She was incredibly loving to a degree I can only hope to emulate.
I’ve been reading the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. Chapter 2 begins by narrating a fictitious event, me attending my own funeral. I walk into the room, look at myself in the casket, and then take a seat. I listen as coworkers, friends, and family talk about what I meant to them. This is not an uncommon parabolic story. Many a preacher has stood up and said, “If you were to die today, what would people say about you?” But Covey writes something I haven’t thought about in a long time, words that made me think of Dalta and her contribution to this world: “Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have made in their lives?” (Covey, 104). What difference do I daily make in people’s lives? And here I’m not talking about a big difference. I’m talking in smaller terms. What small positive impact am I having on the people around me?
Dalta made a difference on me that will never fade and will undoubtedly carry through my entire lifetime.
At the end of my life, I want to have done the same. Exactly what this will look like in the long term, I can only guess. But what it means in the day to day, that I can control right now. We can only control our immediate self. So the question I would pose to you is simple. Are you making a difference in the world around you? If I sat down with you, would we leave the conversation being mutually benefited by the conversation?
If not, why not start today? We have the unique ability among ALL the animal species to be able to change. To adapt our behavior to become what we would LIKE to be. This is a trait that only we hold. Don’t you WANT to make a difference? One day I want to stand before God and boldly proclaim that I FOUGHT to show people the same love that He has shown me. I want to be able to walk up to Dalta, and after years and years of missing her presence, hug her in Heaven and just say thanks. I want to thank her for creating a permanent change in the way I talked to people, the way I cared about others’ problems, the way I prayed, and the way I made every moment count. Just as I say so many times on my blog, today is really all we have. Right now. This is it. Why waste these years when our lives can stand for so much more? Why get to the end and have to be the ones who look back wishing they had spent their lives caring about things that REALLY mattered? I don’t know about you, but I refuse to let that be me. If Dalta taught me anything, it’s that working hard in life is important, and that means working hard in LIFE. Life! Living. People. The one thing I wish this morning is that Dalta could read this message and know the difference she has made in me. I’m excited however to know that one day I will see her again and be able to tell her.