Friday, April 28, 2006


As Sunday nears, the day that my brother Jon would have been 22, I am feeling introspective. I certainly think of him on other days, but I'm conditioned that April 30 is my brother's birthday, and on that day we celebrate his birth and another year of growing older. This will be the third birthday we have experienced since his death. It makes me realize how much changes in life. I look back to times when Jon was alive, and they seem so removed; I am another person then. I lived those days, but when I look back, I'm looking in on another time, at a play that was performed. I am merely an actor who has forgotten some of my lines in the various scenes I've played. Memories are foggier and specific days fade away into general feelings.

It is good for me to take these times and deliberately think things through. I need a reminder that life doesn't consist of 140 seventh-graders revolving through my room daily. I get so bogged down in the here and now that I lose sight of the bigger picture. I had a 'moment' at the start of my spring break. We were flying to Los Angeles and my heart was in that ready state. Maybe it was because I'd taken a personal day to travel, maybe it was because I was rested and had few immediate, pressing demands on my plate. Whatever the reason, I was reading a book that I'd set aside for a season. It had been highly recommended by friends (Blue Like Jazz), and I'd picked it up and began reading it. Initially, I was somewhat intrigued, but in some regards I was just reading by rote. It was set aside and I lost track of it. Spring break approached and I discovered it again, and I was primed for it. It was really forcing me to think, and I was allowing the tangents to take place. Periodically I would set the book down and just gaze over the dark expanse below me. And I began to be taken out of my little world. There were hundreds of farms I saw, thousands of cars. Each one represented other beings. I wandered into predictions of these untold stories, putting flesh on the unknown. Who down there was experiencing heartache? Who was caught up in the mires of deception? All around me on a daily basis I cross paths with hundreds of others, but I'm so often focused on me and what I need to do to get by, to survive another first-year teaching job that I'm consumed. I can't get above my mire to notice what is really going on.

A friend and co-worker further fed this introspection. There has been a young couple closely affiliated with my school district--both teachers--going through a difficult time. She was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, and just passed away a week and a half ago. I knew of them through co-workers and students, but didn't know them directly. The husband began sending out almost daily emails, detailing her progress the last couple months. After requests, he encouraged people to forward them on as they saw fit. My co-worker compiled them into a fifteen-page document and sent them my way. I had brought a book to read during the day as my students worked on reading their novels silently, but I instead read his words. I was drawn to the gripping messages.

I can't begin to imagine what it would be like to know your spouse is most likely going to die from this invasive cancer, and yet you must slowly watch the process unfold. She was losing her hearing, struggled with muscle deterioration, and ached with sleepless nights and pounding headaches. Even as a Christian, I was challenged and encouraged by their faith. He was frank in his feelings, but he was also filled with hope. They desired so desperately that she be healed, but they were willing to acknowledge that, if that didn't happen, God was still supreme and they would trust. Yet he didn't just sit back and let his wife die. They wrestled with God, begging for healing. The whole community embraced them, and through it all, she had a strong spirit that rarely complained. They were a testimony to everyone around them, many confused and amazed at how they walked through this trial with such grace.

Death is so sudden and unpredictable. Sometimes we have notice that lives are going to come to an imminent end, but it seems as more often than not, we are challenged with the unexpected: death through a freak car accident or a suicide. Is it easier to know in advance that a loved one is done for this earth, in order to prepare and have closure? Or does this draw bitterness about the inevitable? I guess I'm left with the truth that we aren't promised a certain number of days. God would have us to acknowledge our mortality each and every day, and live accordingly. But as frail humans, this is hard for us to do when events seem to coincide so smoothly into our predictable routines. It should be no surprise that, in those husband's letters, such eloquence was drawn out of such heart-rending pain. Struggles force us to bare our souls and thoughts and be honest with what is truly important.

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