I never really liked playing video games. I still don’t. But, I liked being with you. I remember that purple machine with the N64 on it. It was huge. Cumbersome. Seriously hard to tote down the hallway from the other end of the pediatric wing as I moved with both crutches and my IV pole. But, when it was my hour to play it, after signing up earlier in the morning, I knew I’d get to see you if I had it.
You were four years older than me, and I looked up to you. I’m learning more about myself as I read what my mother wrote about me those days of being seven years old, but I knew, even for my entire life, that I had an admiration for the way in which you faced each day. Yeah, you got frustrated sometimes. I sure did too. But you smiled. And you laughed with me. And you moved so quickly on your crutches. You never gave up. Yet you were human, and I wanted to be like you.
You maybe could have been my husband. Or maybe just a really great big brother for a lot of years. We don’t know, and that’s ok. I had a best friend for a lot of years that made us at least so many years older than we were.
I watched you when cancer took your lungs away one piece at a time. It was a given. You would go in for a cancer checkup, and find at minimum one new spot, and there would be surgery within the week. I hated to see you hurt. I loved spending more time with you in the hospital. I would have done whatever I needed to to help you, and I enjoyed knowing that with you, I was known.
I remember the day you died. The color of the sky. The way I hadn’t even been able to handle being around you. How I was so afraid that if I watched you die, I’d have to remember you as the boy that was dying rather than the one that had let me play with his arm crutches so many times before. I cried like I had never cried before. I cried a cry that came from the depth of my soul. That had so many questions that they all simply fell to silence and awe of how much I could not understand within me.
My mom held me. She knew what I knew. And she wanted to give me back my innocence. But she couldn’t. I was twelve, and my best friend had just died. My best friend was simply never coming back on this earth. And that day, I learned of the ache of what has gone wrong in this world in a way that I have never replaced. It’s ok. It’s good to remember that we’re not home when we’re here.
This Sunday, I rode in the back seat as my parents and I passed the cemetery where his body lays. I remember the day he died too. It plays alive in me. I wonder what it would be like to stand at his grave again. You were with me then. You knew it was you next. I knew that you knew it. Everyone did.
Death is real.
Death, is a part of this earthly life.
Death, as we know it, is a part of what every life story will be.
For a long time, when I would think about both of you, I’d remember the days at your death times. I’d think back on what it was that you said last, and the way people did not understand why you were worth my tears. I’d remember you in the casket. And I’d remember what the steroids had done to your slender cheeks. I’d remember realizing that you were not there anymore. And I’d remember slipping my last letter to you alongside your hands. I knew even then that you couldn’t read it, but I also knew that I needed no one else to keep it either.
But when Sunday came, there was a light in our lives that none of us had seen before. I sat with your parents and his, and we laughed. We talked about what matters in life. We saw the trees with the same eyes, and we smiled at each other those smiles that got us through the darkest of days. We talked about the way that you did what you wanted, even after having your leg amputated. We talked about how he had been given a toy from his father when the drugs kept him from even seeing it.
And we talked about things that we weren’t even saying.
Without words, we talked about how it is that I am graduating college. How we would want to be with each other every day in that hospital without the cancer, and about how you liked tomato soup so much more than me. We talked about why you died, and how we’ll never have the answer to that, in the way our humanness knows it. We talked about how we’re satisfied without knowing. Without words, we smiled. We saw. We heard. And we lived three hours where the two of you were with us again. It is almost as though we sat under those trees where we had played basketball, and if I wanted to, I could have heard you laugh with me.
I would never wish cancer on anyone. I know you never would either. But in a sense, I wish for just a month that everyone had cancer. I wish that they would see that I miss you, because I loved you. That I loved you, because I knew there would be a day when you were not with me. And I knew there would be a day without you, because there could be a day without me. I wish everyone had cancer, so that they would love someone enough to cry from their soul.
And so then, they would maybe, just maybe, see a glimpse of how Jesus has loved them.
Death, as my pastor defined it, is separation. Isn’t that the truth? What we cry from, ache from, fear, is the separation that will come. Of a relationship. Of knowing one another. Of words. Of action. Of memories. Of remembering the color of your eyes.
But death in our worlds is not forever. Life is forever. It’s not fluffy words. It’s the truth. This Sunday, I did not remember you as someone in a casket. I remembered you as the man who would be standing alongside me loving each and every person he met, had he been able to. I remember you as the one that smiled. Just simply that. I remember you, as the man that learned to walk with me, talked with me, and lived with me.
I can’t remember you as the man who died.
But I can see enough that sitting there in that circle, I am alive. And the same ache that met me the day you left Earth burns within me today. It doesn’t tie me down though. It’s a reminder that I’m free. And it’s a reminder that there is a reason that I’m here. That I was the one who didn’t leave yet. And it’s a reminder that I need to live, so that so many more can live as well.
This summer, I am shaking hands with my past.
And I want you to know, we are not that different from each other. We all just want somebody to discover who we really are when we drop our guards. Love is going to start with you and me.
Blow up your guard now.
Love with everything.
…because love wins.