There are certain things that are not supposed to happen while on vacation. It is not supposed to rain (which it did.) When visiting a quaint beach town, one is not supposed to encounter protesters at the local post office who want to impeach the president and make their point by drawing a Hitler mustache on the leader of the free world (which also happened.) And young adults whom you once knew as teenagers aren’t supposed to kill themselves.
As much as we might pretend to vacate the world or our own little realities from time to time, life presses on. Good things happen while we’re away, and tragic things too. I shouldn’t be surprised. I am not Queen of the Universe; the world doesn’t stop because I have set aside a little sabbath time. But some things are hard no matter when they happen, like the death of a person you still remember as a bright, crazy-talented, slightly pimply teenager in your church’s youth group.
I served that church ten years ago, and have since lost touch with so many of the folks there. I was a bit of a tertiary staff person to the youth program, but when the youth went on a retreat and they needed a pastor to celebrate communion, I was on deck, so I got to know these kids. ”These kids” – they are now adults, holding down jobs, finishing grad school, getting married and starting families and starting careers. When I hear about them through the ecclesiastical grapevine, or one of them friends me on Facebook, I am so glad and so proud. I have no reason to be proud, but I am. They are on their way, and doing great, or at least doing as well as any of us might hope to, given our flaws and foibles and the general human condition.
But this kid. This kid. My heart aches for his parents and his sister. For his friends, too, because I know that particular class from the youth group was tight. Maybe they knew what I did not, that mental illness was a burden he carried, along with his talent and friendship and handsome gawkiness. I picture his parents – devout, faithful, loving, possessing a patience and concern I never realized. I picture his friends – the one who worked at Starbucks and made me a latte at 7:00 on a Sunday morning as I made my way to church. The woman who was smarter and more beautiful than she ever realized. The guy with the crazy hair who got ordained and now wears tabs on Sunday mornings. The one who went into the Peace Corps. The one who’s a doctor. All of them, tonight, grieving. Grieving the death of a peer, a friend, maybe someone they would even call beloved.
This is about all I know tonight: that he left the world a little more beautiful because of the talent he shared. That he left the world a little more fragile because of that cusp of anxiety and depression that he teetered on. That he woke us all up to the present, to the gift of right now, the gift of old friendships, and the gift of community.