Every time I sit down to write I pray that my words reflect, love and honor the subject at hand. Today, I spent the whole morning in prayer and meditation even asking others to pray that God would guide my words. This is a very special story because today I hold with me the story of loss, grief and the knowledge that we are more than this short life we live.
On June 26, 2019, parents, siblings, friends and loved ones got the kind of news we all fear. Their beloved Mitchell Evan Collier passed away at the age of 25. A life cut short leaves us all broken. So many memories unfulfilled and so many questions left unanswered.
In our grief and disbelief it is natural to look for signs and symbols of reassurance. Is our loved one ok? This story could be about how we look for those signs. But, this is not a story about the looking. It is a story about the finding.
His favorite number was 54 and everyone that knew Mitchell, knew it. Heck, he had the number tattooed in Roman numerals on his body. He used it for everything. It was his special number. Everywhere he went and everywhere he was, his number went with him.
No question about it- Mitchell loved the number 54. It’s a love that no doubt started when it was his Greeneville High School Football number. After all, he won two state championships back to back in his #54 jersey. Clearly that is why Mitchell loved the number 54 so much. What we do not know is why the number is popping up over and over again after his death.
At Mitchell’s Celebration of Life ceremony, one person after another came up to the family and shared dozens of stories about how Mitchell rescued them. They shared how he paid their rent when they were about to be evicted, or paid an electric bill when it was about to be shut off. A breast cancer survivor claimed that his constant concern for her health is what got her through, and the stories kept coming one after another of his compassion for his friends and family.
Mitchell’s mother, Beth Collier, stated, “He was a large boy with an even larger heart that gravitated toward the weak and helpless people and creatures.” Whether it was the almost daily calls to check in on his mother, or saving a friend from losing their home, he wanted no recognition. The beautiful thing about his acts of kindness is that they were all done without telling anyone else.
Recently, Mitchell moved to Knoxville with a teammate and friend, Terrell Rollins, who was working in Michigan the day Mitchell died. He was devastated when he got the news and took a walk in a nearby golf course. Sitting for a minute to collect his thoughts, he saw a man on a golf cart approach him. He shared with everyone that he half expected to be told to get off the course, but instead was asked if he was alright. Terrell replied by saying, “I just have some stuff to sort out,” when the man said to him not to worry, everything will be ok and then drove off. As Terrell looked up, he saw the number on the back of the golf cart was #54. You could imagine the comfort a friend and teammate would feel seeing that number and hearing those words, but it does not stop there. Everyone associated with Mitchell started seeing the number.
Friends buying beverages for his memorial received 54 cents in change. Others were given the #54 waiting on their food order. Friends looking for directions were shown by their GPS to turn on Collier Ave, and that there arrival time would be 4:54pm. Then Mitchell’s Grandmother, aunt and cousins were in the car, straight from seeing Mitchell in the casket for the last time, when they turned on the ignition, the fuel range indicator read 54 miles. Actually, as I write my phone is lighting up with more 54 sightings than I could find space to write.
In honor and memory since Mitchell’s passing, over eighteen friends and family members have had the number 54 tattooed on their body. A permanent reminder of a young man who loved everyone with his whole heart.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the number 54 to see if it had any special Bibical meaning when I came across this interesting fact. The numerical value of the word LOVE is 54.
1John 4:16- “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
When I sat down to write I feared I might not be the right person to share this story. But, as life’s mysteries would have it, my fears were taken away when I suddenly remembered that I am 54yrs old. An interesting coincidence, I thought to myself, but not enough to give me the reassurance I needed. Just then, I opened my Facebook where I had posted a request. I asked everyone to pray that God would guide my words as I write this story, when all of a sudden, I looked at the post and I got a clear vote of confidence. There were exactly 54 comments of encouragement. Was God guiding this story? Was God guiding Mitchell’s life? If so what is the message?
Here is what I know. I know that there are only two ways to look at the number 54 and why it is popping up for everyone that loved Mitchell.
First- it is God’s way of letting us all know Mitchell is ok, safe and sound in his loving embrace.
Or Second- we all are looking for that number to give us reassurance. Therefore we see what we want to see.
If the answer is God letting us know our loved ones are safe, then that is wonderful.
If the answer is that we see what we want to see, then I ask you this one question- If we can choose to see what we want to see, then why do we not choose to always see the good in everyone? Mitchell did!
Seems to me we are hearing from Mitchell and God either way. Life is Mysterious.