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Banner's Red Sled

This is the story of a red sled whose significance we realized only after its owner was gone.

When Banner was a toddler we bought him a red sled for Christmas. Banner loved cars, and this would be like a red race car. On the back of the sled I wrote “BANNER” in black Sharpie. His own Banner-mobile. It is one of the first things I can remember uniquely labeling as his, before any siblings came along, and before he set foot in a school.

We were still living in on-campus housing at Bilkent during my PhD program. We loved sledding down slopes around the hilly campus. The sled had an orange plastic tow handle convenient for pulling him up hills and through the snow when his legs were too tiny to trek through heavy snow.

The two-seater sled was perfect when his little brother Aslan joined the family. I could plop Banner right in front of me, and hold Aslan in his lap as we zoomed down hills. I remember pulling the two little boys in the sled around the pond below our campus apartment. Every winter we’d pull out the sled for the snowfalls.

And then, one March night at the end of a winter season, the namesake of the sled was taken from our lives.

All of a sudden, his physical possessions took on special meaning. The sacralization of objects is a topic I cover in my teaching of consumer behavior. Normal, mundane objects can take on sacred meanings for consumers for a variety of reasons. It’s not something I’d thought much about personally until Banner Davut was no longer physically with us.

What do we do with his closet and drawers full of clothes? It is a frequently mentioned paralyzing decision for bereaved families. The t-shirts that still have his scent. The button-downs he wore in our treasured pictures. His favorite hoodies and “cozy pants”—as he called his beloved sweatpants. After giving a few articles away to his friends or cousins, we had a family friend pack up his clothes in a big suitcase and put it in our basement storage, because it was simply too much to handle in the first months.

It's not just the clothes though. Banner’s backpack full of notebooks and homework sat in our entryway when we returned without him from the weekend trip. His top dresser drawer brimmed with tiny little treasures, scraps of papers with our names written in his juvenile handwriting, his monthly calendar with notes on upcoming birthdays. In the normal flow of life this is mostly junk to be discarded. But instantly it became sacred, each scrap of paper a vestige of a life we want to somehow touch. When he won’t ever write his name on a piece of paper again, each one is suddenly a limited edition.

These items were compact enough to put in bins and stow away for when we were ready to deal with them emotionally, as the grief counselors suggested. Indeed, just last month, nearly four years later, we finally made it through a bin of Banner’s artwork. There were tears. We managed to purge some items that were duplicates or unlabeled and undated (Note: always write dates on your and your kids’ work). We’re slowly able to let go.

But there were other items that weren’t so practical to tuck away in storage. Banner’s room, top bunk bed, chair at the kitchen table, bicycle, and sled are items that feel like they should be used. We don’t want inventory for a museum.

When the snow began to fall the following winter, our habits told us it was time to get out Banner’s sled, but our hearts broke to not have its owner there with us. How can we even think about sledding without Banner? We had to make the decision we’ve had to make a thousand times: to keep living. To make new memories. To believe that Banner is most honored when we get outside with his siblings for a new day. So we took the red sled up to the top of the slope by our apartment building. I tucked Aslan between my legs and held 1-year-old River in my lap. “We love you Banner,” I said audibly, and we pushed off down the hill. He’s carrying us. He's not far from us.

The sled has become a symbol of snow days and thrilled laughter and father-son bonding at its most joyful. It brings nostalgia of sledding down the back hill of my own childhood home with my parents and siblings. And now it carries the memories of the best of times with Banner.

We’re in our fourth winter now without the owner of the sled. We’re still sledding. I remember swallowing hard when I saw Aslan and a neighbor friend roughhousing on the sled, fearing that the red plastic might finally crack. For me, that’s part of choosing to allow Banner’s possessions to be used for what he would most want—for his siblings to have a blast. Miraculously the tow rope hasn’t even snapped yet, and it still comes in handy to run the kids back up to the top of the hill. But someday, like all possessions, it will reach its end. We will keep the memories.

Last weekend we took the family over to the nearby Bilkent campus for some sledding. The story of Banner’s sled is still being written. There’s a new little guy named Brave who is enjoying his big brother’s sled, even though he never got to meet him. I took Brave out for a little extra sledding time just the two of us. We raced down some steep slopes, bailing out just before we crashed into the stone sidewalk. “Ride-em-Cowboy!” I exclaimed as we raced downhill. 2-year-old Brave echoed me, “—Cowboy!” with each ensuing ride. Using the sled together makes Banner feel a little closer.

I hope we can sled together up in Heaven one day, and who knows, maybe there’s even a way that God could get that red sled up there for us for when we do.

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