A little after 12 p.m. Tuesday, 20-year-old Kadon Babb was laid to rest at Massey Cemetery in Pioneer, the same cemetery where his paternal grandparents are buried.
The committal service followed five days of mourning that began as news of Kadon’s sudden death — of natural causes — spread throughout the community on Veterans Day. There has been an outpouring of emotion and grief in the days that have followed Kadon’s death, many remembrances being offered, and endless tributes to a young man who was universally liked and respected in this rural county of 22,000.
But as the graveside service ended on Tuesday afternoon, the mourners slowly drifted away. And as is the case with every death, and every funeral, so began the slow return to normalcy for most of those who knew Kadon and have mourned his death.
How long will it take Scott County to forget the death of Kadon Babb? Weeks? Months? Years? Who knows. Kadon’s family, certainly, will never forget. As any parent who has lost a child can attest, there are some scars that never heal. Time may dull the pain, but it doesn’t erase it — not ever. A piece of Donnie and Kaprecia Babb, and of Kadon’s brother and sister, Skye and Journey, left with him on Thursday morning.
But Scott Countians should never forget Kadon Babb, because even at the tender age of 20 — and long before that, when he was still a teenager in high school — he was who the rest of us should aspire to be.
For now, it’s excusable if there’s an anger that pervades through the sadness. When someone young dies in a car accident, or by other unnatural means, it’s certainly tragic, and it’s no less painful for the family they leave behind, and yet it feels somehow different. It feels different because no matter how tragic, there was at least an explanation.
When a young life is snuffed out in the manner in which Kadon’s was, there’s no explanation to be found. As Christians, we commonly console ourselves with our faith. But even the strongest Christians can find themselves questioning, “Why?”
It’s not that Kadon Babb was the only good and decent young person in Scott County, obviously. To suggest so would be an insult to the many other recently-graduated high school students who make this community a better place simply by being who they are, and to the parents who raised them. But in a world in which we constantly complain about our youth, and their behaviors and habits, Kadon Babb was exemplary.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a young Christian man who shines his light any brighter than Kadon. If you didn’t know him, you’ve learned this through all the testimony offered by his friends, former teachers and coaches, and all who were acquainted with him. If you did know him, there was no doubt in your mind that Kadon was going to do great things in life. To know Kadon, as any of those who did will attest, was to appreciate his values and his demeanor, and the way he carried himself.
You saw Jordan Jeffers, Kadon’s former high school basketball coach, say that Kadon inspired him to “be better.” That’s not just something Jeffers says in mourning. Stephen Butts, the former SHS standout who played with Kadon, recalls that Jeffers used to joke to his team in practice that when he grew up, he wanted to be like Kadon Babb.
When I learned of Kadon’s death around lunch time Thursday, I was instantly reminded of the Samuel Johnson quote: “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
If that’s ever applied to anyone, it applies to Kadon Babb. I didn’t know him closely. But I knew him well enough through sports to know that he was the same person to guys like Stephen Butts and Logan Goodman — the superstars of his teams — as he was to the guys on the end of the bench who would never see a minute of playing time and were more or less shunned by many of their classmates. That’s just who Kadon Babb was.
I thought about that as I sat in a tree stand deep in the deer woods over the weekend. I thought about the pain that Donnie and Kaprecia — and Larry and Bonnie West, Kadon’s grandparents — must be feeling. I can’t imagine, of course. But I know that grandparents should never have to stand by a grave and say goodbye to their grandchild. I know that a father should never have to carry his son’s casket, as Donnie did on Tuesday.
If not for sports, I wouldn’t have known the Babb family; I would’ve only known of them. But my son and Kadon’s younger brother are the same age and have played basketball together since they were in elementary school. To be around the Babb family is to come away impressed — by their tight-knit approach to life, and especially by the actions of their kids. Not just Kadon, but all three of them.
I’ve told Donnie more than once, “You have great kids.” And then, of course, I have to add: “They must take that after Kaprecia, because there’s no way they get it from you.”
And in true Donnie Babb fashion, his answer each time has been, “They’re not as good as you think.”
But I think they are. And while we all know examples of parents who tried their best only to see their kids turn out in ways they wouldn’t have preferred, I’m a firm believer that almost every good kid is a product of good raising.
My own son thought highly of Kadon because any time he and Skye were fishing or doing anything else, Kadon was there. He was only five years older than my son, but Kadon was someone for my son to look up to … someone you feel good about your son looking up to.
When you’re young in a small town, it’s always shocking when someone else who’s young dies. You grieve their passing, even if you didn’t know them well. But Scott County’s youth have grieved the death of Kadon Babb so hard because he was someone all of them could look up to — even those who were close to his own age. That’s how he carried himself. That’s how he treated others.
I think Bryson Russ, Kadon’s former basketball teammate, may have said it best when he asked: “What kind of reputation are you leaving behind?” Kadon’s death, and the response to it by those who knew him, should cause all of us to ask ourselves that question. Everyone speaks highly of us after our death, of course, and especially so when we die tragically at a young age. But it’s not hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, to find the sincerity, and the response to Kadon’s death has been sincere.
What kind of reputation are we leaving behind? Our actions in life create the legacy we leave behind. I’m more than twice Kadon Babb’s age, and it’s a question I’ve found myself pondering the past several days … just like his former basketball coach, Jordan Jeffers, who was also his elder. People who live like Kadon Babb can teach all of us, regardless of our age, young or old or in between, to be better.
And that’s a legacy that’s worth a bushel of gold.