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Archive for September, 2009

Death and Life

For the last few hours I’ve been sitting outside and staring. Just staring. Tonight I was informed that one of my students died on Friday night. Yes, I’ve been crying a bit. Shayne is my first. I can’t say I’d ever considered this scenario. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs you know that there was a period of my life when I thought death followed me and struck down the people I cared for most. But that period has long since passed and now I’m struggling with what I’d only heard people talk about: how can someone so much younger than me, with so much potential, be gone.

I only had Shayne in one class last year. It was the fall semester and he immediately distinguished himself as a curious student who was intellectually gifted. But his curiosity extended beyond the classroom as he sought to understand the world and people. Shayne came by my office frequently. Sometimes we would just talk about politics or music, while other times we would talk about life. We spent hours talking. Our backgrounds were different. I’m a country boy from South Dakota and he is a second generation African-American from Zimbabwe. He grew up in the ghetto in Indianapolis. Ironically, what we shared in common was death. His father had died before he was born. After moving to the states, he saw friend after friend die. We talked a lot about this, especially after Shayne realized that I am a Christian.

Since he was very young he looked after his mother, who had a bad habit of picking cruel men. He told me stories about when he was a child, her boyfriends would beat her. And there Shayne stood. He told me about her choices and how he had to grow up so very fast. And he did. He didn’t return to school this year because of finances. He told me of his dilemma this last spring, he asked me to pray for him: that he would have wisdom in knowing how to best protect his mom.

I can’t imagine all that Shayne faced. I can’t imagine the circumstances leading up to his death. But it has made me pause to think about the people in my life and how much I care for them. I think of my students. I think of life. But death seems to have that impact: causing us to look down, rather than up. Rather than looking at the forest, I see the blade of grass. I see a student with so much potential struck down before that potential could be realized. It’s heartbreaking.

What is interesting to me now is how this is the first time I’ve reflected in the midst of grief.  Shayne and I weren’t best friends. Our interaction was very much as a student and professor. But in that relationship something grows that I hadn’t realized before tonight. This relationship goes beyond attachment and extends to seeing someone for who they could be. I wonder if parents feel similarly.

But death comes and we go on, however slowly. To feel the loss of one student makes me hope for the others. I’m not one to think of tragedy as purposeful, as if it happened for a specific reason. That kind of fatalism has always bothered me and doesn’t seem very Christ-centered. In a fallen world there is death and that death is the result of sin. Can tragedy result in triumph? Absolutely. Death reminds me of the purposefulness of living a life of reconciliation and redemption. It reminds me that a life of shalom is a difficult life and prompts us to act in defiance of “logic” and social norms. I’m reminded once again that the difficulty of living shalom is also its beauty. As a friend of mine once told me, “It’s the struggle that is beautiful.” And, again, I must agree.

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