The ugly weight of death

January 28, 2013

We should never question the truth of what we fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders. I’ve heard this. And I, with many others, very much believe this.

But the truth of death still seems so much louder, so much more distinct, so much more undeniable than the wonder of what even those with the strongest of faith believe.

This is what is now before us, the story of our friend Timothy. Timothy, a young Ugandan with a pleasant face and easy laugh, is actually a friend to many at our university home. Timothy has cancer. And, short of a miracle, he will die.

Last evening, along with his two sisters, he was up at our house. We watched Dumbo and ate homemade pizza and Timothy laughed in his gentle way. This was after he joined us for our Sunday afternoon ball hockey game, when he ran hard and scored some nice goals and got some arms of appreciation put around him.

And this was after we prayed for him during what my family calls ‘Around the Couch Time.’ ‘Around the Couch Time’ is what we do with the kids every Sunday in our living room. We each think about the past week and share one thing that we’re thankful for and one thing we’d like prayer for.

Timothy’s name came up. And then my children’s questions. What about miracles? Is his mother sad? Will we go to the ‘burial?’

Burial is the word used for funerals here. It’s a word that comes up over and over and over from Ugandans who are informing you that, no, they won’t be around tomorrow because they will be away at a burial.

Sometime after we met around the couch, little Hannah couldn’t help but let it slip out, apparently quite a few times while at her friend’s, that ‘Timothy is dying.’ … ‘Did you know Timothy is dying?’ … ‘Timothy, you know, he’s going to die.’

We don’t say things like that, is what we told Hannah later on, at bedtime. And she cried up there on her top bunk knowing that she had somehow done wrong, but surely also wondering, did I say something untrue?

No, short of that miracle, it is true. Regardless of how many good times any of us will still have with Timothy, the end seems imminent. Which is why it’s so disturbing.

We don’t like to hear about death in such a matter-of-fact way. We’d rather hear it talked about, if at all, in hushed tones, like it’s a secret, even an embarrassment, like it’s last week’s laundry that we haven’t got around to cleaning up yet. But, in the end, it is all rather plain and hard.

In this sense, no Hannah, what you shared is not your fault. It’s not anybody’s fault, really. And it’s all of our faults, quite literally, if you look at that fault that goes back all the way to Eden.

Mostly, though, death is just a weight, an ugly weight at that, a weight that, in one way or another, every one of us has to carry sooner or later. And whether we’re 12 or 112, even the best of us aren’t really ready for it. Nobody can ever say otherwise.

This is why Someone Else has to carry us through it, that dark threshold. And it’s this being carried, it seems to me, that is the only real wonder that anyone could ever hope find in the entire muddy mess of it.

Yes, the light may shine brightest when the night is at its darkest. But it doesn’t make it any less night.

The paradox, the one that will always make some of us hopeless fools in the eyes of this world’s skeptics, is that even in this, there is thanks to be given.

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January 28, 2013 • Posted in
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