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By Staff | Jun 13, 2012

June is the traditional month for weddings, so it should come as no surprise that my wife and I recently attended a connubial ceremony. It also shouldn’t have surprised me when my wife produced waterworks that would have rivaled Niagara Falls, especially at this particular wedding.

The young couple pledging their troth were Jake and Stephanie. Jake is one our youngest son’s college buddies.

When we initially met Jake, we thought his first name was Minnesota since our son always referred to him as Minnesota Jake. Turned out that Jake was his first name and that he happened to hail from the Duluth area.

Jake came out to our place on numerous occasions to hunt with our son or to simply hang out. He struck us as an extremely nice young man, tall, athletic, mop-headed, polite. We could see why our son liked him.

But the passage from adolescence into adulthood is rife with rocky shoals and hidden reefs. These hazards nearly claimed Jake.

After his relationship with a girlfriend cratered spectacularly, Jake tried to numb the pain with a program of methodical and excessive alcohol consumption. For his friends, it was like watching a slow-motion train wreck unfold.

In the middle of an August night four years ago, our son, who was interning in Las Vegas at the time, got a call from Jake’s phone. The voice on the other end identified himself as a patrolman. Our son thought he was being pranked until the patrolman rattled off his badge number.

Jake had been involved in a serious traffic accident. His pickup had left the highway and rolled over in a ditch; Jake was thrown out and was found lying unconscious in shallow water. Jake’s cell phone was found nearby and his last call had been to our son. The patrolman said that Jake’s injuries appeared serious and his survival was in doubt. Could our son tell them who Jake was and help them contact his next of kin?

Jake’s parents, Chris and Marty, live in the Black Hills. We could only imagine the agony of their long, middle-of-the-night trek to the Sioux Falls hospital.

“You get that phone call and you know you’re supposed to do something,” said Chris, “But you’re in so much shock you wonder what it is that you’re supposed to do.”

As they drove across the state, Marty began to mentally compose funeral plans.

We went to see Jake the next day. Good news had begun to slowly trickle in: Jake had regained consciousness; Jake was able to move his legs.

In the ICU, we found Jake being attended by his parents and many of his friends. His head was bolted into a metal halo, his mop of hair shaved to facilitate the repair of a deep gash in his scalp. Jake had five fractured vertebrae, two in his neck and three in his back.

My wife went to his side and spoke to him. Jake opened his eyes and, despite the drugs and the trauma, was able to recognize her. Niagara Falls suddenly appeared.

It took a year for Jake to fully recover from his injuries. He decided to get his master’s degree and eventually landed his dream job as a fish biologist in the Black Hills. When we got the invitation for Jake and Stephanie’s wedding, I knew that this was one event that we would not miss.

Jake took his place at the altar looking tall and athletic, his mop of hair neatly trimmed. As his bride walked down the aisle, Jake’s lower lip began to tremble and he had to wipe his eyes several times.

The young couple recited the vows they had written. Jake said to Stephanie, “I didn’t know why God gave me a second chance until I met you!”

Stephanie’s voice broke several times as she said her vows. She had to make frequent use of a hanky thoughtfully supplied by the maid of honor.

All this while, my wife was doing her best to put the Kleenex company out of business. There must have been some sort of malfunction in the church’s ventilation system because my eyes also began to sting and produce excess fluid. Glancing around the sanctuary, I could see that the majority of those in attendance were similarly affected.

At the wedding reception we chatted a bit with Jake’s grandparents, Bill and Evelyn, who have been married for nearly 62 years. While the handsome young couple danced for the first time as husband and wife, Evelyn remarked, “They have a long ways to go to catch up to us. But I think those young folks will make it!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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