A Short Diary On Death
August 5, 2002
My dear friend—in essence my younger brother—was killed. His name was John Randall, although we called him Randy. He played the guitar, and he was 20 years old.
I'm told that everyone tends to react the same way. I didn't actually believe the news at first. "Chris, I have some very bad news," my cell phone cautioned, "I need you to sit down." I choked on my breath when I heard "killed."
"No. No, that can't be right." My voice shook. The accident was being explained to me. The thought sunk in like Jell-O would a sponge. I had to hear it repeated.
Slowly closing my phone seemed to accelerate my brain. I had just spoken to Randy—what was that, three days ago? It was a short conversation—he seemed to be hurting. I told him that I was praying for him, even from six states away where I live. I was worried.
But not worried that he would suddenly simply die.
The crying came in waves. One minute stoic, the next sobbing. My grief tore control from me; my feelings moved on their own. They seemed to already understand what my brain still was working to imprint: I would never talk to Randy again. He had ceased. Not in my theology, but in my world. Tears splashed and I didn't care.
Youth Meets Death
Three days later I sit in an airport. Randy’s funeral is tomorrow, and I’m thinking about death. I still don't understand. At what age are children supposed to be able to comprehend dying? I'm 24, and I don't. Is it just me?
In reality, these new feelings are striking at a core tenant of my identity: my youth. I’m simply too young to really know death. My life inexperience throbs like a bumped scab, not yet ready to fall off. It reminds me that maturity is a process, not a destination. Especially not one to be reached at 24 years.
Yes, this must eventually affect all of us who are young. Who of us have really touched death in our first quarter century? We are invincible. Death is a fairy tale for the ABC Nightly News and the elderly. It doesn't live on our plain. Our great-aunt passes, not our friends. We can watch the dying around us, but most of us have not yet recorded the awful discovery that, without warning, one day Death will slide into the safest chamber of our hearts and brutally and cleanly remove a fleshy slice of our intimacy, trust, and love.Nurses may understand pain on a quantitative scale of 1 to 10, but only the wounded feels the pain searing her nerves. The pain of Randy's death awakens me to an understanding I could never have had by watching others. I have grown older. And I hope it changes me. “I could die any minute” is now much more than words. It gives me a renewed sensation of Life; of making it count. I want to LIVE!
The God of Death
It's been six days. The viewing, the memorial, the funeral, the lowering of the casket—all finished. Three men I didn't recognize shoveled pounds of heavy earth, marring the polished black coffin with dirty sienna. And now I sit in an airport for the second time—returning and reflecting.
Five hundred people came to the funeral. The pastor talked a lot about God and heaven. Everyone expects this at funerals; I suspect even the atheists of the crowd suspend their cynicism for a day.
For my part, years ago I chose to take a leap of faith and trust my Creator, giving everything I had to a Father who I believe to be infinitely wiser and more pure than I’ll ever be. But now, as I listened, my mind turned to thinking about God as the Source of life. Way back at the very beginning of creation, life was his very breath (Gen. 2:7). The hard question surfaced in my thoughts like a submarine through a sheet of ice. Is my God also the Source of Death?
Portions of the scriptures spun through my mind. Wars of the Bible. The Angel of Death. The wages of sin. Oh—how could I miss this—a torturous death on a cross.
Quietly, I conceded. My Lord gives life, and takes it away. I suppose the two must go hand in hand. My God would be small indeed if I couldn’t even mentally grant him the power of death. I realized that my picture of the God of the Universe had again expanded. From the middle of my grief, from my the pause in my soul, I silently worshiped the God of Death.
We’re about to land in Chicago. Around my neck I'm wearing a set of beads that belonged to Randy. I still haven't erased his number from my cell phone quick dial. That thought rushes to my eyes and for a moment I feel like I’m going to cry again. But this time it’s unmistakable - the quiet comfort of the Holy Spirit pours like sweet ice tea on my soul. I breathe. I realize that I’ve grown in my understanding of myself, and of my God.
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