Wilder's Whole World
Remembering Raymie Barnett on New Year's
For 33 years, I have looked at the end of each year with a mixed view.
I know that New Year’s Eve is a time of celebration for the New Year coming; and all the promise it brings. Yet, I feel sad as well because of what happened on that night in 1977. I was watching Dick Clark usher in the New Year at a friend’s house. We did the usual things and I left about 12:30 a.m. (It’s Jan. 1, 1978 technically) Now, that’s not so unusual by itself, but there was ice and freezing rain on the ground, roads and in the air when I left north Sherman.
I lived in the east part of Sherman, so I went the route I usually took going that direction: US 82 East from Texoma Parkway (US 75 at the time!). I was traveling slowly around the curves and bends near Skaggs Road when I hit a particularly treacherous patch. I fish-tailed and almost went off the road. It was only by the Grace of God that I didn’t. I somehow got it together and went on my way home.
I remember thinking, ‘I hope that doesn’t happen to anyone else this New Year’s night! They could really be in trouble; maybe killed.’ And I promptly forgot about it as I took double the time to get to my parent’s house. It was a day or two later that I heard ‘it did happen’ to someone else, but not just anyone else.
I’m not perfectly clear on all the details since I was not directly involved with any of it, but there were four Sherman High School girls in a car which lost control and crashed at that same place. It was within an hour of when I had traversed that dangerous section.
One of the girls, Raymie Barnett, died as a result of the accident. She was a junior at the same school where I was a senior. And that might have been all I had in common with her except for one thing: Our lockers were next to each other’s that year.
Some can say that this is a minor indirect connection if they ever heard one; and I would agree in the ‘big picture.’ But personally, I know what having lockers together meant.
In this story, there are many layers of high school drama, tiers and cliques; as with almost any high school story. But to me, this connection is personal because Raymie Barnett cared enough to talk to me at our lockers.
Now, I realize this could be considered ‘pathetic,’ but this story isn’t about me and my lack of friends. It’s about Raymie’s incredibly wonderful personality and demeanor.
I wasn’t one of the popular students at school; I was mostly just there. I was quiet and did my school work and tried to stay involved with activities. Yet, I wasn’t one that others would flock to. And Raymie was just the opposite! She was happy, beautiful and had a caring attitude. There was always a group around her. There wasn’t any reason for her to talk to anyone like me on any day in high school; but she did.
From our few conversations, I realized that she truly cared about me as a person; one of the first of my peers to do so. She could have easily gone quiet when faced with me at the lockers. (I was too shy to have said anything first!) Yet, she took the time and the genuine approach of engaging me in conversation. As the years go by, I realize better how special that was; of course, I had no idea at the time.
I was too busy with the fact that a pretty girl was talking to me!
Perhaps, that would have been all there was to it. I would have graduated and never thought about Raymie again, but sometimes, God does things that none of us understand for so many reasons we can’t comprehend. I realize that many others had a horrific experience that night; her family and friends, just to name a couple examples.
I hardly count except that once I realized she was dead, those short encounters became larger in my life’s experience. After all these years, I have realized that her simple act of kindness was passed onto me. I was now given a gift which I probably didn’t deserve. I was shown pure kindness and the only way to repay is to continue that practice for as long as I live.
It has only come into focus in recent years as I (hopefully) have become more mature. And dare I say ‘wise?’
With programs such as Rachael’s Challenge – the Columbine victim who believed kind acts could change the world, I have begun to understand how vital these actions are! To simply show someone else that he or she is worth the time to acknowledge is the single most powerful action in the human condition.
I didn’t know much about Raymie Barnett and I still don’t, but I know what she stood for. I am living proof that acts of kindness do help fill the future with promise. You know, I never realized that the time of year mattered in her death. But now, I can see there is much more to it than a horrible car accident.
Have a Happy New Year; and may your future be filled with acts of kindness – for you and from you!