Memorial Day holds a special place in my heart. Not just because it’s a celebration of incredible selfless sacrifice as a gift for others. But because the weekend of honor and reflection always falls near the birthday of Tracie Joy McBride — the bestest friend of my teenage years. She was serving in the U.S. Army on Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, when she was abducted at gunpoint, raped, and beaten to death by a tire iron.
I was on the phone with her when she was abducted. And I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget the moment when I learned why the phone went dead that dreaded February night in 1995.
That event could’ve taken me out. Completely. It probably should’ve.
But in honor of her life, I chose life, too.
If she could impact as many peoples’ lives as she did in 19 years, imagine what we all could do with our lifetimes if we harnessed the passion, drive, and generosity that she embodied.
Her life is the reason I am adamant about following passion and heart to make a difference. Her heart is the reason I won’t let anyone or anything temper my heart and empathy. Tracie’s legacy is the reason I’ve chosen the paths others think impractical — because giving people hope, freely giving love, and helping them feel their value, is the most precious gift I could ever give anyone.
Her tenacity and grit is the reason that I refuse to live life in the “what if” zone, and instead always move forward with “what now,” no matter what life throws at me.
That’s how she lived. That’s how she inspired me to truly live. That’s the legacy she left for the world in less that two decades on this planet.
This particular blog post is from the deep archives…written back in 2009. The words still ring true today.
May 27, 2009
It’s been so long. I seriously don’t know how time flies by so quickly. I miss you tons, but, to be honest, it doesn’t seem that long since we’ve chatted.
I think you know how profoundly our friendship has affected my life, but I really feel like I need to publicly thank you for all you sown into my life, whether or not you ever knew it.
I didn’t realize it during our high school years, but you inspired me to live joyfully. Even when we had boy problems, got in trouble for talking in choir or were sad about deeper and more complex issues in our lives, you’d find a reason to smile, then laugh, and then go grocery shopping and make cookies for the soccer team (or the basketball team…or the track team…). You showed me that the simple act of doing something for others turned things around, pulled out smiles and brought joy to everyone around you. Your joy made you shine. As teenagers, I think we took that infectious joy for granted.
You also proved to me in those years that courage shaped character. It wasn’t just because you had the guts to join the military, but you had the gall to join the track team as a senior when most people joined in junior high. You didn’t care that your best friend was younger than you (which was a big deal in high school). And, you weren’t afraid to befriend everyone, regardless of label. You were unashamed about what you believed. You had the courage to live life fully.
More than anything, you taught me about true friendship. Everyone had best friends in high school, and our relationship was no exception. But looking back, you showed me the fullness of friendship…a letter telling me you cared when you knew I was had a bad day…a trip to the grocery store for cookie-making supplies to celebrate successes…tolerance in moments of crabbiness…willingness to talk through tough times…an incomprehensible commitment to people you cared for (including me). After the last time we spoke, I wasn’t sure I’d ever have a best friend again. But, because you taught me how to be a friend, I now have several. I’m convinced my friendships now wouldn’t exist had you demonstrated true friendship. In fact, my new friendships filled the void left in my heart after you were gone. I know that might sound strangely harsh, but I know you understand. And I know you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Sometimes I feel bad that you weren’t able to be a teacher liked you’d hoped to be. But, I believe you did fulfill that dream. You’ve taught. You’ve inspired. You’ve encouraged. I believe those are traits of the best teachers.
I know it’s been more than 14 years, but you’ve been on my mind a lot lately. No doubt it’s because today is the 34th anniversary of the day you were born. I even went to visit you today, but I knew you wouldn’t be there. Regardless, it meant something to see a little piece of the girl I knew back then.
Sometimes our time apart feels like an eternity. Yet, not a day goes by without me vividly remembering the last time we spoke. You wanted to know what I was doing home on a Saturday night. I laughed and asked you why you called if you thought I should be out! I was busy telling you about the new guy I was dating, you politely complained about having to “guard” the laundry room because people were stealing things. We even talked about the validity of a magazine article about the diminishing respect guys had for girls who put out too much. You know, important 19-year-old-girl stuff. In the moment, it all seemed so trite.
But our conversation that night taught me something I’ll never forget. Nothing is trite. Not words. Not love. Not life.
The day after our conversation I began regretting things. I wished I would have tried harder to listen to the unexpected muffled voices that interrupted our conversation. I wished I would have known something was wrong and called 911 when the phone went dead. But I honestly never knew anything was wrong. I’m sorry.
I’ll never be able to comprehend all you went through that night. I bet it felt like you were stuck in a nightmare – kidnapped, raped, beaten. But, since I know what you believed, I know that somehow God gave you peace in the eyes of terror. I know that you spent all of your final hours praying. I also know you knew how much I loved you, even if I didn’t say it that night. Never again will I let anyone wonder what’s in my heart.
You inspired joy. You lived courageously. You taught friendship. Not just to me, but thousands during your earthly life, and thousands afterward. In fact, I believe that somehow the story of your life and how you lived changed the heart of the man who ended your life.
Even though you’ve got better things to do these days in eternal glory, I know you still love me, too. Ironically, your very life helped fill the hole in my heart after you were gone.
My bestest friend in the whole, wide world…that’s what we called each other…and that’s always how I’ll remember you.