This girl was part of my church, and I nodded and smiled to her or her parents as we passed in the hallways. My church is so big that to stop and talk to each person would mean that nobody ever got to the sanctuary. We try to move in various circles that allow our family to interact with as many others as possible, but there aren't enough hours in the day or days in the week to give us time with everyone. Also, not everyone is clambering to know us, so....there you go.
Because of our quasi-relationship with this family, I was shocked to discover how strong my feelings were when their daughter fell ill. I woke at all hours of the night, worried sick about how she felt. I prayed in snippets and paragraphs, at the most unexpected times. I prayed for her weary parents and younger brother, her big sister and friends. The thought that this girl's life would end was staggering. It couldn't happen. It simply couldn't.
Luckily, her story ended with life and restoration of health. The joy was as overwhelming as the fear.
As I said, I started to write an article during the time she was in the hospital. I wrote it almost in its entirety and then felt foolish and presumptuous. Who was I to talk so passionately about a girl I barely knew? How could I have claimed anguish for someone who probably didn't know my name?
I deleted the article, which I had tentatively called Katy's Community. I'm now going to tell you a different story, and this time I won't delete it, no matter how emotional or sheepish I feel.
Last weekend, a friend sent out texts saying that Maurice's family was looking for him and had we seen him?
Maurice Carter has been a staple of the church we attend. His voice is unlike anything you have heard (obviously we know from this statement that the brother has dark skin) and he was always recording backup vocals for one famous person or another who wasn't half as good as he. Maurice was also a professional friend. I'm joking, of course. But if you know Maurice, it makes sense! At his favorite haunt, Nippers Corner Starbucks, he could be seen holding court with a guy who needed counsel about his job, a couple who were trying to work on their relationship, a woman who wanted to write songs.
As the weekend went on and Facebook blew up with pictures of Maurice and pleas from his family, the horrible news came that he had (most likely) suffered a heart attack and died. For reasons I don't understand yet, the family hadn't been contacted in a way that made sense. Thus, the two nights with no news and an expectant community.
The news of Maurice's death remains shocking. Several days have passed, and as with all sudden deaths of young people, it seems more unreal with each passing hour. I stared at his funeral arrangements and it really seemed as if I had forgotten how to read. Surely this was wrong? Maurice would soon pull up for choir rehearsal in his garish yellow school bus-looking car. He would sing, and give words of comfort. I know there has been a glitch in the Matrix.
Though I knew Maurice ever so much more than Katy, I'm still amazed at the depth of my grief. I didn't meet with him weekly, like my husband. I didn't sing with him, like Lici. I never had him round for dinner, like Denise. I didn't buy him Christmas presents, like Lanee and Robert. But he was my friend, and he was part of something that I also am part of.
Christians frequently use the parallel of the physical body to understand how the church body, either local or universal, works. It has become cliche and passe and other French words. But it is the best I've got today, as my vocabulary has been eaten by my feelings of loss. We know that if even the tiniest toe is broken, the whole body focuses on that pain until the wrong has been righted. Likewise, we know that if the hand becomes lame, the whole body must work overtime to compensate for something previously worked without any thought. But when a part of the body is actually gone...the pain is so unbearable the body cannot recover for the shock.
Phantom pain, the pain experienced by those who have lost a limb, is what I am talking about. Part of our body is gone. We aren't expecting to find a replacement or even work out how to compensate for our loss. We simply hurt, and the pain is indescribable.
Like with Katy, I have been engulfed with the idea that this cannot be happening. I've attended multiple funerals of friends and family over the last few years, and it is one thing that gets progressively harder with practice.
Unlike some, I'm going to say that it doesn't make sense. I see no plan or reason, and I certainly don't want anybody to say that my friend is in a better place. If you believe in Heaven, as I do, you know that he is indeed in a better place. But it is only better for him. It isn't better for us.
I can believe that an All-Knowing God has a better idea of what is going on, and I can understand that I don't understand. I'm not mad at God. I'm mad at the world that 'became subject to evil and to death' and the knowledge that nothing will get any easier. Life goes on, and we can revel in the balmy evenings with friends, eating ice cream and watching our kids torture cicadas. But then another glitch, another hiccup in the delicate pattern of life, and we once again find ourselves clinging to those we call friend. We realize how fragile are these threads we weave.
I've taken enormous comfort in the friends I have this week. I've also bumped up the outward emotions and communications to those whom I might normally just nod and smile. We are all hurting, even those who aren't really sure why they hurt. If you are one of those, just feel the grief. Maybe you didn't lose your best friend, but you did lose part of yourself. Each person is valuable to the community in which they have been placed. We notice if you are gone, or even if you aren't pulling your weight. Don't tell yourself that you don't matter, or that someone else doesn't matter.
In closing, I want to include the last conversation I had with Maurice. He told me how glad he was to see that I joined choir, and that I had a great voice. (Told you he was nice. Compared with Maurice and his ilk, I sound like an angry cat eating a scared cicada) He then told me that he wanted me to write for him. "I'm going back to school!" he said. "I'm going to be a life coach."
I expressed my excitement at his offer, because I love to write, because I loved him, and because I was honored that someone who had access to The Best Writers Out There would want me. He told me that he didn't want his business to be overtly Christian, and then he started apologizing and back pedaling.
After laughing at him, I told him that I thought it was a great idea. The world doesn't really need more Christian Businesses as much as businesses that act the way Christ said to. "After all," I told him, "nobody has to be looking for Christ in their life coach. If they get you, they'll get Christ anyways."
At this point, Maurice teared up. I had hit a nerve. "Thank you," he said, "I've been doubting myself and feeling like I was going back on my beliefs or hiding myself."
"Ha! You can't hide your beliefs, Maurice. You just love people and coach them in whatever they want coaching in. Your faith in Christ comes through even when you don't say anything."
We left the choir room, with him promising to call me soon to set up a meeting. We'd talk about what to write, we'd brainstorm, and we'd probably meet at Starbucks.
Instead, I'm writing an article about how horrible it is to lose someone, even someone you didn't realize you loved quite this much.
Maurice, I kept my end of the deal. I wrote for you. Now keep yours, and meet me one day.
Until then, my friend.