Thursday, October 18, 2007
Entry for October 18, 2007
[These are my thoughts from October 18, 2007. I had a headache, and I couldn’t seem to get rid of it, so I headed for bed early...around 8:30 P.M. But I was restless. My mind started thinking, as it often does, and out of the blue, the thought of Andy Pippin came into my mind. If you don’t know who he is, you will later on...but from there, I just started thinking. And I figured I would share what happened over the next thirty or so minutes. My train of thought was pretty focused, but it did wander off-track a bit. Such is the realm of thinking. It’s a pretty important subject, and if something triggers a thought for you, please let me know. I very much love the feedback and conversations that happen as a result of these blogs.]
It’s Thursday night. It’s been a long day. I left with Bernd to head down south to a town on the coast. We were taking Maya and Freddy to the vet. We left around 9:45 A.M. and didn’t get home until 5:30 P.M. We did some shopping, some sight-seeing, and just had a normal day of enjoying a town. But I was tired. And after returning home, I ended up with a headache. I fixed some food (one egg on white rice), but that didn’t seem to help. I had already had three bowls of cereal because I didn’t eat anything too fulfilling or fulfilling the entire day (one small pack of yogurt, some bread and jelly, part of a German pastry, a pasty filled with chocolate, and then the cereal and egg/rice mixture). So I decided to lay down for a bit. I wasn’t the type of tired where I was going to fall asleep. I knew that. But I wasn’t up for doing anything else but laying down.
And almost instantly, Andy pops into my head. I first met Andy at a football game in New Berlin, Illinois. He had a swagger about him, and from the first moment I was introduced to him, we hit it off. From that day on, we would always joke with each other and enjoy each other’s company. “What’s up, Andy?!” “What’s up, Andy?!” We were two laid-back personalities, and he was quite fun to be around.
I never really hung out with him outside of sporting events. He was about five years younger than me, and he was still in high school, so we weren’t necessarily close friends. But I appreciated him. But I haven’t talked to him in ages. I haven’t been able to.
And so I was quite surprised that his face pops into my head in October 2007. I am four thousand miles away from New Berlin, I haven’t seen him in the longest time, and I have had no interaction or connection with him. But there he was, as clear as day.
This friend Andy is dead. He died several months ago. Maybe even a year or two. I’m not sure. Everything seems to run together anymore. And to think I am only 25 years old, and things are already started to get blurry.
So imagine my surprise when I think of him. I remembered his sideways head when he talked or saw me. I remembered his picture at his funeral. I remember his dad saluting him in his casket (which instantly made me cry)...a memory I will never forget. And I remember the funeral itself. Rainy.
He was 19 years old when he died.
I met a couple more Germans tonight. Three more came here last night, and I played some darts with them in the beer hut. And I just met two others tonight. They are all in town for a funeral. One of the guys that I met last week at a party died. I guess he was riding his bicycle but didn’t come home. His girlfriend went out to look for him and found him 70 meters from home. By his bike. Dead.
And so the people are coming into Portugal from Germany for the funeral.
And as happens when you lay down, my mind started thinking about death. And from Andy I went to Tom. Another memory I will never forget. One of my close friends from high school. One of the guys I knew from elementary school. One of my teammates on my basketball team. One of the few guys I kept in contact with after high school.
To the day I myself die, I will never forget Tom’s funeral. Because I was asked to do it. How does a 22-year-old do a funeral for his 23-year-old friend? I grew up quite a bit that day, that week.
And then I started thinking about others. I remember my first real experience with death...the one that hit too close to home. But first, I remember my first memory of death. Of going to a funeral. I went to my great-grandmother’s funeral. To be honest, my only real memories of her are her sitting in a wheelchair in my grandma and grandpa’s house. And so I was quite confused and a bit curious as to why my cousins were crying at her funeral. To me, it was just another family gathering to attend. I didn’t understand death, I didn’t know death, and the whole experience was quite funny (not as in comical, but as in curiously funny). I just didn’t get why my cousins were crying. I had no tears, and I wasn’t about to get any.
But my first real experience came in high school. I was 16 years old, and I received word that a classmate named Mike had died in a car accident. I can vividly remember going to my history class. I sat directly in front of Mike. I vaguely remember our teacher talking about not focusing on it (how do you not focus on something like that?), but all I could think about was the empty desk behind me. And how it was going to be empty for the rest of the semester. It just didn’t add up. Mike was 16 or 17 years old.
16 years old. 19 years old. 23 years old. I myself am now 25 years old. I have outlived Mike by 9 years, Andy by 6 years, and Tom by 2 years. I have gone to college, traveled the United States, and now started traveling Europe. I have visited Buffalo Wild Wings, I have been to Chicago Cubs games, I have made memories that they simply cannot.
Because they are dead.
It’s quite a provocative thought. And so I laid there in bed, just thinking about death. Our American society has numerous quotes about it, the two most popular being... “Death comes to us all,” “There are only two things in life we can be certain about: death and taxes.” Of course, numerous poets and authors add their takes on death, and men and women for countless ages have had something to say about it. I myself quote the line from Braveheart all of the time...(in my best Scottish accent)...”Every man dies. Not every man truly lives.”
And so death itself is not something unspoken of. Yet at the same time, it is very much unspoken. I think about my lessons of death, and frankly, they are many. I think we all “come into our own” in this area, and as such, we all have different viewpoints, emotions, and experiences with it.
But I consider myself to be no virgin when it comes to death. I already mentioned Andy, Tom, and Mike. And others that have affected me....June. She was a sweet old lady from church. She always hugged me, and I fondly remember her inviting me over for a beautiful spaghetti dinner. She really didn’t have much to call home, but she had a love for me that I still enjoy thinking about. She died.
Barb. She was a huge help for me. She was another lady in our church, and she often took charge of a very big week for children that we had every summer. I visited her and her husband at their home, and we talked weekly. She died rather suddenly. To this day, I remember an interview that she did on stage about her approaching death. She knew it was coming, and though she wasn’t thrilled about it, she welcomed it. She wasn’t afraid. But my helper was gone.
Dale. He was constantly looking to get someone. He was a jokester even in his 50’s, and I can only imagine what he was like growing up. He was a guy from church, and I was on a special leadership team with him. He cracked jokes, he had an unforgettable laugh, and he had the biggest hands when you shook them. He died rather quickly.
Grandpa. I was driving through Springfield when I got a call from my brother. He was hysterical. Gradually, I was able to decipher that my grandpa had died. I instantly pulled my truck over to the side of the road and just started sobbing. This was my first real close family experience. I wasn’t as close to this grandpa as I was to my other one, and it is only within the past couple of months that I deeply regret that. I would very much like to sit and talk with him as a friend, not just a grandpa. But he is dead, too.
I have been to other funerals, and I am quickly learning that death is a part of life. Maybe that is my quote to add to the list. Other lessons of death that I have had growing up...
Every year around Memorial Day, our church would take a moment of silence, and many of the men in the church would just speak out a name. A name of someone they knew that was killed in combat. Maybe World War II, Vietnam, the Korean...and my dad would always say Eddie Naffsinger. As I grew older, I would wait in eager anticipation for my dad to speak. I always knew who he was going to say each year. And somehow, though it was a bit unrealistic to me, I knew that my dad knew someone that died. How close? I never asked.
I visited the Vietnam War Memorial when I was in 8th grade. Thousands upon thousands of names on a big, long wall. Maybe too many names. That many people dying in a war doesn’t make sense to me. But I remember the wall. I was probably 13 years old. I also visited Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands upon thousands of crosses in the ground. Each representing a soldier. Again, the thought is still poignant, but the immensity is almost overwhelming. It’s only comparable to looking at the stars. There are just too many. It puts you in your place.
Again, in 8th grade, I had an assignment in my science class. Every day, I was to look at the funeral notices in the paper and mark down their ages. Looking back, I wonder if this wasn’t a life lesson more than a science lesson, but I can remember that assignment. I didn’t do the assignment too well, though, because I was never consistent enough to read the paper every day. I was always having to look for it or make something up for the ones that I couldn’t find (before internet). But what I do remember is the variety of ages. The 60’s and 70’s and 80’s were by far the most consistent with deaths, but every once in a while, over the course of the month, an infant would appear. Or a teenager. Or a young adult.
In high school, I remember being driven out to a cemetery in the middle of the country. I was with a youth group, and we were told to look at tombstones. Again, much like the 8th grade assignment, so many of the tombstones were of older people. But in a cemetery, we would also find infants and young ones, as well.
Death knows no age.
And so here I am in Portugal, lying in my bed, thinking about this whole idea. And then it hit me. I am not afraid. I was talking with Bernd yesterday, and he told me about the death of the German guy. And he made a couple of comments that have really stuck with me...
“This is just crazy, you know. He’s perfectly healthy, he has had no problems, and he just went out for a bikeride.”
“This would be terrible, you know, to build up all of this money and then die. I would hate that. This would just be too much for me.”
And I just stood there silent. I watched a man go through what every man goes through. We start to think about death so much more when it hits closer to home. It’s like the girl I was talking to in Serbia. I honestly had no idea that a war was taking place there, but she wouldn’t even let me stay on her couch with couch-surfing because I was an American. The war mattered to her because she literally had bombs in her backyard. To me, I thought nothing of it. But if I had a bomb in my backyard, I would indeed think much about it.
And this week a bomb went off for several Germans.
And my guess is that Bernd has been here before. To have lived for any amount of time over 20-25 years is to at least have some lessons or experiences with death. What his are, I cannot say. But he has had to think about it more this week.
But I thought about it again. I really am not scared of it. And it’s something that I had to wrestle with in Scotland. I was talking to a guy there, and we were talking about religion. He doesn’t believe in God, and he couldn’t understand how I could. And so we talked, and I asked him what he thought about death. And he honestly and openly said that is the biggest concern for him. In effect, it scared him ****less. His “religion” (or lack thereof) didn’t really provide a comforting reality of death. But to his credit, he blatantly told me that he just thinks we die. We are no more. We go back to dust.
I wrote a blog about that conversation, and I had to address why I believed in God. Why I believed in life after death. I wanted to believe because it is real, not because it makes me feel better.
But I do believe in it, and I am more than talkative when people ask me why. I just think that there are so many reasons to believe in it. But that is exactly why I am not scared. And I don’t know if Bernd is scared. I don’t think that is the right word (and I’m sure he will read this, so I’ll find out anyway!). Concerned? Curious? Maybe those are more fitting.
I think about some verses from the Bible I know. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Paul actually had a desire to die. For to him, he would be in the presence of God in heaven. He had a hope. He actually considered it a “profit” or “gain” to die.
I think about the story Jesus told about the guy who had so much money that he tore down his old storehouses to build new ones. And how Jesus called him a fool because he was going to die that very night. And I think about Bernd’s comment about acquiring money but not getting to use it because you die.
And I think about Bernd and me talking about people we know that came to retirement but died soon afterwards. I think about my dad’s boss who reached retirement but then passed away within a year. That was actually one of the stories that further made me passionate about traveling at this age. I am simply not guaranteed tomorrow.
And I think about the comment from James that say that. Don’t say tomorrow you will go here or go there, do this or do that. Rather, say, if it is the Lord’s will, then I will do this. And I find myself saying, “If it is the Lord’s will,” or “If I don’t die before tomorrow,” because of this verse.
I remember taking my youth group out to a cemetery and telling them they ever since we were born, we have all been dying. I remember having them search for tombstones of the oldest person. And the youngest person.
I remember visiting Westminster Abbey in London. I remember seeing the tombstones of people like Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and several kings and queens. People with riches beyond compare and minds that stood apart from the rest. And they are all dead.
I remember visiting a graveyard in Ireland. I remember the tombstones from the 16th century. I remember the church from the 10th century. I remember the tombstones of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers. Men and women with lives, kids, jobs, and influence. Men and women with stories of success and failure, delight and pain. And I remember some of these tombstones so faded that no one would ever know these people again. They have been dead for 800 years.
And so I just thought about death. Frankly, it’s perhaps the most important part of life to dwell upon. To avoid it is to be foolish. Ignorant. To focus upon it is to be dangerous. Silly. But to neglect it is to die already.
For we are all dying. It only makes me ask...what legacy am I leaving behind? And it’s sometimes fun to think about, too. Will I have a place in Westminster Abbey? Or will I have a tombstone like Abraham Lincoln? Or will I just join the thousands....the millions...the billions of others quietly laying in cemeteries around the world. Will I be remembered after my friends, kids, and grandchildren pass away? (Can you name your great-grandparents? Your great-great-grandparents? Your great-great-great grandparents?). Or will I have a tombstone that is faded by time? Will I be a distant and forever forgotten memory upon this earth?
To me, these thoughts are absolutely delightful. As I mentioned before, I am not afraid of death, and it is strictly to the fact that I believe in a certain life after death. One that I don’t have to be afraid of.
But I just wonder what others think. I am always delighted to hear their thoughts, their comments, their questions, their boldness, and sometimes their hesitancy. I would be a fool to say that I understand everything. But I would also be a fool to say that every man does not land somewhere (whether spoken or unspoken) in his view of death, me included.
And we can avoid it and be fools in every sense of the word. Or we can address it now while we can and seek to be prepared (if necessary) for it. The options are many. Back to dirt. Life after death. Reincarnated. Just gone completely, totally, forever. Nirvana.
Which do you choose? It’s not only a necessity in life to hold a view of death, but I wholeheartedly believe that death actually determines life. Your death determines how you live. Back to dirt? Eat, drink, and be merry! But you can’t cry when a close friend dies...it’s just part of the circle of life.
Reincarnated? You’ll eventually reach Nirvana. So you can be a horse in the next life. Or a king. Work up or work down. But no worries. Outside of temporary pain, Nirvana is always available eventually.
Life after death? Responsible for my actions? A God that actually made me and cares about me? Eternity with Him?! Sounds almost too good to be true. But it’s where I land. I believe in God, in Jesus, in life after death. Sure, it gives me hope, but that is not why I choose it. I choose it because I have to do something with this historical Jesus guy. And after study, He is very hard to get around.
But I am always fascinated and eager to hear others. I have swayed in my own thoughts, and I have been greatly challenged sometimes even in my own beliefs. But like I said, we all have a view of death. And it determines how we live. So what do you think of death? And if you don’t think about it, why not? Take some time to seriously answer that question. I think it’s important to know why you think or don’t think about it.
I’ll end with a humorous story. I was visiting my grandma and grandpa at their farm one Wednesday with one of my friends from college. Grandpa was just a’jabberin’ away (he always does when someone new comes around!), and then he said something that Don and I couldn’t believe.
“Yeah, your grandma and I were going to play cards with Ernie and his wife last week, but,” and he said kind of disappointedly in Ernie, “he just up and died on us!” And with that, he grabbed a piece of meat and started chewing! Grandpa had lost a fellow card player, and it was cramping his style!
Don’s and I’s mouths dropped. We couldn’t believe it! Grandpa just said it so matter-of-factly...just like the telling of the weather or what he did yesterday afternoon. And Don and I tried to hold our laughter in, but we went to the breaking point. We lost it.
But I have learned much from my grandpa. One of these facts being that death is indeed a reality for us all. I can remember other conversations with him about how he has outlived classmates, teachers, and even students. How his friends are passing away all around him. He himself is 83 years old, and he knows his time is coming.
He and grandma have already bought a tombstone with their names on it. And it comes complete with a John Deere tractor on it. It’s even holding a reserved spot for two in the cemetery. I know. I’ve seen it. It has their birth years and a dash. It’s just waiting for the year to put behind the dash.
If that isn’t a dose of reality, I don’t know what else is.
Andy. Tom. Mike. June. Barb. Dale. Earl. [insert your name here]
2007-10-18 22:00:04 GMT