From the Editor’s Desk Life: Sometimes a River runs through it

Marlys Barker

River Thompson was no ordinary person, and this isn’t going to be my ordinary end-of-the-year Christmas column, where I thank all those people who help us gather news, pictures and ideas to keep this newspaper going. It’s not that I don’t appreciate those people — and hopefully they all know it.

It’s just that this year, recent events have me thinking of a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy named River, who recently lost his battle for life following a tragic automobile crash. While many of us wish we could back up and change history, we can’t. So we move on by remembering River and trying to learn something from what has happened.

I liked the way that Kindra Lindsey described River in a Facebook post she wrote: “His name is so fitting for him…it’s free, does its own thing and (is) wild and unpredictable at times and other times (is) so calm, peaceful and beautiful.”

That sounds like the River I had come to know.

Kindra, like others, have commented about River’s “naughty side” — it’s no secret he could be naughty. But in recent years, this child had grown into a mature 17-year-old, who, when he was at our house, was polite, respectful, kind, helping and still just a little bit ornery, because let’s face it, life isn’t fun if you aren’t a little ornery. And life was fun for River. You could tell that in everything about him.

When I first found out that my son, Drew, was hanging out with River, I honestly thought it was a little odd. River, who was talkative, outgoing and somewhat of a rebel in outward appearance with his long hair, was the direct opposite of Drew, who is quiet, reserved and pretty conservative in appearance. But Drew didn’t care about any of their differences. He and River shared a love of motorcycles and trucks.

They spent lots of time together when Drew got his motorcycle license and started riding this past year. River helped Drew figure out how to shift gears better, and they enjoyed getting out the bikes and going on rides.

River had a job and was working at the Country House in Colo. He started to encourage Drew about getting a job, maybe even one at Country House. Drew found a job at McDonald’s in Nevada, and River was happy for him.

Then there were trucks — when Drew got his truck, he and River had that in common to talk about and work on. I walked in Drew’s room the night he found out River wasn’t going to make it, and he showed me a video that Cooper (Nevada’s ag instructor) had shot of him and River as they took off with lots of fruit to deliver in River’s truck the night before his accident. A tear ran down Drew’s cheek as we watched it. River loved his truck, Drew said. And in the video Cooper talks about the little 1979 Datsun as River and Drew drive off with all their boxes.

I’m not sure how many kids and fellow classmates really took the time to get to know River. What happens in life is that many of us tend to hang out with people who are like us. We want to be with people who “fit” our idea of who we are. It’s comfortable to “fit” in. So if we’re an athlete, we hang out with our teammates; if we’re a band member, we hang out with other musicians; if we’re a computer nerd, we hang out with other geeks; if we’re a rebel, we hang out with others who like to live on the edge.

But what if we take a chance on befriending someone who isn’t exactly like us? What if, rather than “fitting,” we focus more on “connecting” with people, no matter if they’re like us or not. If we were to do that, we might just find out what life can be like when a “River runs through it.”

My son’s life, my life, others who took the time to really get to know River, like his good friend Dakota Weir of Colo, whose family has been so much a part of surrounding the Thompsons in their time of need, we have all found our lives enriched by having connected on some level with this crazy, fun, talkative, ornery, polite, charismatic kid. And those who didn’t take the time to get to know River have now lost that opportunity.

At this time of year, when so much of the emphasis is on giving, River’s last act was to give the gift of life to people he never knew. He believed in organ donation, and because his family knew that, they courageously made the decision to donate River’s healthy organs to those who so desperately needed them to preserve their own lives. River’s legacy will be as a hero who saved lives with his gifts.

So those of us left behind — classmates, community members — might think about giving ourselves a gift, too. Reach out in the coming year and truly take an interest in someone who isn’t quite like you on all levels. Step outside of your comfort zone and think less about who you “fit” with. Explore friendship, or even kindness, toward a person at school or in your community, who appears to be nothing like you. And you might just find that there are more commonalities between people than differences. I challenge everyone to find new blessings by letting a “River run through your life” in the coming year.

(Marlys Barker is editor of the Nevada Journal.)