Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

April 18, 2010


Today has been a special day to us for 57 years


April 18 has come again.  It is not a holiday. It is not the birthday of a president or a Civil War general. For most people it is just another day on the calendar. But for me and my bride it has been a special day for 57 years. Our first son was born on this day in 1953.

          Today being Sunday we will worship as usual where I preach every Lord’s Day, Saint James United Methodist Church in Montgomery. My sermon today will be about lessons we learned through the death of our son. Old folks simply have to reminisce. And we never cease to be thankful for those who will listen for a little while.

          Many Lee County residents will remember April 18, 1953 for a different reason. A vicious tornado ripped through east Alabama that day, destroying several homes and damaging many others. 

          Dean and I began married life in an upstairs apartment on College Street across from Auburn United Methodist Church. But Dean was soon pregnant. After she fell down the stairs leading to our apartment we rented a house at 818 Lakeview Drive in Auburn. The rent was a whopping $75 per month. I was in my third year at API, the land-grant college would soon become known as Auburn University.

          Early in the morning of April 18 we hurried off to the small hospital that is now called East Alabama Medical Center. Dean’s sharp and increasingly rapid labor pains convinced her that today she would deliver her firstborn.  

          Dark clouds and the forecast of bad weather made us a little uneasy. But it was the turbulence of childbirth, not the weather that got our attention that day.

          The raging storm forced the hospital to switch to emergency power when nearby power lines went down. Rain was hitting the windows in torrents. Water even poured into the hospital through the air-conditioning ducts. But several hours would pass before we heard that a tornado had ripped through the community.

          Our kind physician, Dr. Ben Thomas, had to drive through a torrential rain from Auburn get to the hospital. Shortly after his arrival, debris from the storm made driving in the area quite hazardous.

          When I returned home that night, elated by the safe delivery of our first son, I found our house had been damaged by the storm. The roof had been ripped off above the front door, allowing the rain to soak some of our furniture. But the damage seemed incidental compared to the total destruction of several nearby homes.

          Weighing nine pounds and two ounces, our baby boy was beautiful and healthy. His blond hair and blue eyes made him even more special to us. We were thrilled to have started our family. Though we had little money, we enjoyed life. The future was bright. We had the world by the tail. I finished Auburn and we moved to Nashville where I enrolled in seminary at Vanderbilt University.

          But soon another storm descended upon us just as swiftly as the tornado had come. Tests brought bad news. Our doctor’s voice was breaking as he fought back tears  and gave us the dreadful news, “Your son has leukemia.”

          He explained that there was no known cure. The best he could do would be to keep David comfortable until he died. “Perhaps,” he said, “a cure will be discovered soon; a lot of research is being done.”

          I asked how long David might live.  His answer sent a chill up and down my spine. “My best guess is somewhere between two months and two years,” he said. It was the worst moment of my life – hearing that death sentence for our precious little boy. David was two years old, five months into his third year.

          That diagnosis shattered our world on a day in September.  David suffered. We struggled with the burden. We prayed. We cried. We stifled our anger and wrestled with our fear. Underneath all our frustration was the maddening question: Why would a loving God let a beautiful little boy die like this?

          Finally David’s suffering came to an end on a day in May the next year.   His death wounded us but it did not destroy us. Though tested sorely by the loss of our only child, our marriage lasted and became stronger.  God met us in the hallways of hell and showed us the way out. We refused to become bitter and asked God to make us better. We tried to let him use our pain.

          Over these 57 years our sadness has given way to the overwhelming joy that is God’s gift to those who keep on holding his hand through tough times.

And each time April 18 rolls around, we pause to give thanks for the privilege of having David for three short years.  We also give thanks that in his kindness, God gave us four other sons, each of whom is very precious to us in these days.

          This time, the 57th celebration of David’s birth, we offer thanks that we are still together, still able to remember his beautiful smile, and still thankful for the joy that was ours on the turbulent day our first child was born.

          I hope you understand why the 18th day of April remains a very special day to us. It will always be so, as long as we live. + + +