Yesterday, my friend Mike died.
I say friend, but I’m not even sure he would call me the same. We coached together, but that was about it. I know his family, and he knew mine, but we shared no dinners together, never went to the same parties on weekends, had no memories of trips to the mountains or vacations to the coast or conversations about our demons.
But I think we were friends.
I knew him, not just in the sense of being aware of what was happening in his job or social life, but in the sense of being aware of his personhood. He lived clearly, transparently, luminescent. I knew who he was. Who he still is.
I knew him as a man brimming with a quiet enjoyment of life, filled with a calmness and assuredness I often lack, always revealing a youthful and almost innocent appreciation of the joys of family and community.
That is enough to know.
I am sad to lose this friend. I am sad to think of the pain his beautiful wife and daughters and son must be experiencing. I am sad to think we will not coach together again, to think I will not see him laugh, to think I will never again be surprised by his honesty or calmed by his peace of mind.
I am sad to think that this will happen over and over for whatever time I have left in this life, to know that I will lose more friends or they will lose me, to think that my family members and coworkers and students are all destined for the same end.
I have been all too aware, both in my prayer and my day to day living, of the passing of time. It runs away from me, one event passing to another with a celerity I struggle to understand.
I remember reading something by C.S. Lewis on this phenomenon. He said that there was no greater evidence that we are destined for the eternal than our discomfort with time. We are constantly talking about how things are passing two quickly or not quickly enough, how time really got away from us or how this day or week is dragging on. We never seem quite settled, never quite at ease in this existence. It never feels quite right.
That’s because it isn’t.
Things are not as they should be. This world is broken. A great man, a great father and husband and coach and doctor such as my friend, should not have to suffer the pains of cancer. He should not have to die before his time. He should not have to worry about how his illness and death could affect those around him or how his family will get on when he leaves.
But he did.
That is the sadness of death. As a Catholic, I often get weary of the upbeat cliches that I hear people say to those who have lost a loved one. Sure, he’s in a better place. Sure, it’s better that he’s not suffering. But it’s still hard. It still hurts. It still makes me wonder when and how my death will meet me, still makes me fearful of who else I will have to see go.
That is the scary part. It’s coming, for every one of us, and it likely will be unspeakably hard on us and those we love.
So many wish to make the dramas of this world new, like their struggles are unlike those of any other, like their questions are unique concerns, like their discoveries are the first of their kind. But, of course, they are not. There is but one drama, but one story that we all play our part in, one plot that is played out countless times in this existence.
It is the drama of sin vs. savior. The drama of good vs. evil. The drama of death vs. life. The drama of whether or not we should dare to hope. The drama of whether those cliches I mentioned before are true, whether there is a greater meaning and purpose to all this mess, whether there is a New Day to come after the darkness of this cold night.
I watched as my friend’s story played out. I watched as he handled with grace and quiet courage that unspeakably hard burden, that ancient conflict, that primitive tension between the knowledge that this life will end and the unshakeable notion that another might begin. I have seen this story before; I am living it, as are those around me. I don’t know how mine ends, but I have a feeling I know how his did.
Perhaps this life is passing too quickly, perhaps it’s harder than God intended it to be, but there is something in the poetry of the way my friend lived it that glows with the first rays of a sunrise I believe he has awakened to.
Jesus, may I someday walk with Mike in the glory of your Morning.