From the Other Side, from the Manotick Messenger, June 16
When you reflect on a tragedy or a loss, time bends in curious ways. It’s hard to believe that it was 10 years this week. I sat there with more than 1,000 people at the Metropolitan Bible Church, paying respects to Rowan Stringer, who died from a concussion in a local high school rugby game.
I sat there, absorbing the emotion and heartbreak in the room, wondering what I would write. How do you compress one of the saddest yet most beautiful hours that those of us there have ever witnessed into words?
And to fill this column, I would need about 900 of them.
It was one of the worst tragedies our community has ever seen.
Why does God always seem to take the most wonderful and special people from us before their time?
Rowan Stringer was full of it. Facebook couldn’t keep up with her. She had friends in every social media nook and cranny you could imagine.
Shakespeare himself couldn’t have concocted a metaphor that could begin to touch the amount of pain Rowan Stringer’s friends and family were feeling.
It was said during the service that tears are precious to God. We need tears to grieve and to heal. Young people, many of whom were processing a loss like this for the first time, sobbed their hearts out. All of us in the auditorium did, too. Yet, hearing those comforting words of perspective from Pastor Dan Winter, I looked at tears – even my own – in a different light. Maybe we all felt that tears shed for Rowan Stringer were just a little bit more powerful and special than other tears we have shed. I gladly served mine up to God, and I’m sure a lot of people in that room did, too.
We kept hearing stories from her friends – school friends, rugby teammates and ringette teammates – about Rowan Stringer’s infectious laughter. It filled a room. It was unforgettable.
They all joked about how Rowan Stringer couldn’t carry a tune but never cared. Even her father joked about it. Some people dance like no one is watching. Rowan Stringer sang like no one was listening.
She loved to watch scary movies with her friends. Even though some of her friends admitted they didn’t really like scary movies, they said they watched them just because they knew how much she loved them.
Rowan Stringer was described by many as the perfect role model. She remembered how frightening it was to go to a big high school like John McCrae Secondary School in Grade 9. That’s why she was a link crew leader. It was important to her to help the younger students feel at home. In fact, it was so important to her that she did the unusual and took on that role for two years rather than one.
One of her teachers commented on how every time Rowan walked by in the hallway, she had a smile on her face. Always.
Rowan Stringer was going to be headed to the University of Ottawa to study nursing in the fall. Her dream was to become a nurse and to take her skills to Africa. She was going to make a difference in the world. Sitting in that auditorium, it was clear that she already had.
There are many types of leadership. Rowan Stringer exemplified all of them. She was a friend. She was a motivator. She set an example for everyone else to follow. One of her rugby teammates told me in the reception after the service that Rowan was the perfect teammate.
Rowan Stringer, at 17, had enough wisdom to sign her organ donor card. She has already given the gift of life to others, as her vital organs were shipped to the Toronto area immediately after her passing. Her heart stayed in Ottawa.
God bless the Stringer family for the strength and courage in this tragedy. Her parents spoke eloquently of how the support from the community kept the family going as they expressed their genuine thanks. Rowan’s sister, Cassie, fought through her tears to talk about how thankful she was to have had Rowan as a sister.
Rowan Stringer was very articulate. In fact, she was selected to read “In Flanders Fields” during the John McCrae Remembrance Day service last year. I thought about how cool that must have been, since John McCrae himself wrote that poem. I kept thinking of the famous line from the poem, “To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.” Who will carry the torch of leadership left by Rowan Stringer?
Rowan’s close friend, Owen, wept has he fought through one of the most beautiful eulogies I have ever heard in my life. No words can some up someone as perfect as Rowan, he said. There can only be memories.
Rowan Stringer had more impact on this world in her 17 years than most will in a lifetime.
I was just learning about Rowan Stringer then. A year later, Rowan’s parents, Gord and Kathleen, went to Maddy’s Gala with us. We talked about doing something to create a legacy for her. MPP Lisa MacLeod jumped in, pushed and now every kid who plays sports in Canada knows about Rowan’s Law.
Rowan Stringer has done more for us since her passing than most of us ever will do while we are alive.