(Reprinted from today's Times and News-Star)
Three couples, all friends of mine, had babies this month. I gave them diapers, for practicality.
But another couple I’ve known since before they were even a couple lost a baby this month. Just yesterday. Their baby was 21 years old. Out-of-the-blue cardiac arrest. A tragedy with barely an ill wind for warning.
I will give them flowers, for remembering. What do you do?
Her daddy told me last night that he didn’t know what to do. And we told him that none of us knows what to do at a time like this. So, you go step by step and don’t know what to do, together. You don’t know what to say, together. Because you are human, you contemplate what I’ve heard called the mystery of “celestial bookkeeping,” and then you ask for faith to accept a plan beyond our mortal ability to understand, and you walk along, slowly but together.
It is a tough and awful deal, beyond words, when life departs so covertly. The thief in the night…
For no real reason, three weeks ago I decided to read “Death Be Not Proud,” a 1947 memoir with the same title as the famous poem by John Donne. Written by John Gunther, one of the best known journalists of his day, it is the story of his son, John. Jr., and his 15-month battle with a brain tumor. He died at age 17.
I’m glad now I read it though I really don’t know why I did since its entire subject deals with the one tragedy we all wish to avoid talking about, much less living through. But I find the story particularly helpful today.
“There are other criteria for measuring a life as well as its duration – quality, intensity …,” Gunther wrote. “I am trying to write…a tribute not only to Johnny but to the power, and wealth, the unconquerable beauty of the human spirit, will, and soul.
“The influence, the impact, of a heroic personality continues to exert itself long after mortal bonds are snapped. Johnny transmits permanently something of what he was, since the fabric of the universe is continuous and eternal.”
Her daddy spoke just hours after his daughter’s death of how pretty and smart she was, of the daily “I love you” text messages and calls. What lives never dies.
I found this also helpful – and convicting -- this word in the book from Frances, John’s mother.
“Today, when I see parents impatient or tired or bored with their children, I wish I could say to them, ‘But they are alive, think of the wonder of that. They may be a care and a burden, but think, they are alive! You can touch them – what a miracle!... Exult and sing.’ I hope they will embrace them with a little added rapture and a keener awareness of joy.
“I wish we had loved Johnny more when he was alive. … What does it mean? What can it mean, now? To me, it means loving life more, being more aware of life, of one’s fellow human beings, of the earth.
It means obliterating, in a curious but real way, the ideas of evil and hate, and the enemy, and transmuting them into ideas of clarity and charity…It means caring more and more about other people…it means caring more about God…I hope we can love Johnny more and more till we too die, and leave behind us, as he did, the love of love, the love of life.”