Friday, January 14, 2011

Deep Calls to Deep

What is it about death that makes us run from life? Death is a part of life, yet when we are faced with it we run. We run headlong into life while avoiding it at the same time. We busy ourselves with meaningless tasks to avoid thinking, or find anything to do, for that matter, to avoid thinking.

I spent quite a bit of time during my adolescence trying desperately to catch death, not that I wanted to die, or that I wanted anyone I knew to die, but I wanted to catch it, tackle it, conquer it so that it would not be such a strange thing to me. At that time in my life it was just that; a very strange thing. I was so blessed and so sheltered. I had my parents, all of my aunts and uncles, even both sets of grandparents right up until recently. I really knew nothing of death. So I looked for it. I read young adult novels by Lurlene McDaniel, one of which I remember very well: Don't Die, My Love. I must have read that book at least three times. The heavy theme of most of McDaniel's books was death. She really tackled it, and so I dove right in. Each book, every time I read it, left me in tears, feeling for the characters as though I were in the books with them. I looked for movies and found My Girl, which I was not allowed to watch at home. My friend owned it, and so during a sleepover at her house we watched it. I rewound it and watched the end twice, trying to grasp what Vada was feeling, while tears poured from my eyes. I became obsessed with the songs by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men, One Sweet Day, and Puff Daddy and Faith Evans, I'll Be Missing You. I tried to channel the emotions, wondering how I would feel if I lost someone I loved. I really wasn't a deep dark person. I was a very happy child, but it was just something I knew I wanted to be prepared for. Looking back now, however; the books, the movies, the songs, they only romanticized death. They were teaching me nothing of the real life issues that people deal with when they come face to face with this strange thing.

The first time I let death seep in, it changed me. Ironically, it was a boy I didn't know very well. We had hung out once or twice with mutual friends, and I had several friends who knew him well. He had leukemia, and had been battling it for a while before I had even met him. My dad was a teacher of his, so respectfully, we attended the memorial they had for him in his school's auditorium. It was not the first memorial or funeral I had ever attended, but it was the first one that was for a child...only 17 years old. I watched as his friends in their band performed Stairway to Heaven. I watched as they cried, but I found myself in a place of denial, a far off land as though I were reading a book or watching a movie, but not participating in the traumatic events that unfolded.

I went home that night feeling very ashamed of myself, as though I were something less than human. I sat down at the computer and played those two songs I loved so much, and it hit me. He was someone's child, someone's brother, someone's very best friend in the whole world. I let the tears fall and I walked into the living room to find my parents, shocked at my tears. Not only did I not really know this boy, but they hadn't seen me cry over anything but a lost basketball game in years. I don't think they really knew how to react, and I hated the way that I was feeling. Then I began to feel guilty for letting tears fall for someone I barely knew. Some people out there were really hurting. They didn't have to look for it in a book, or a song. I stopped the waterworks and have been running from death ever since.

When I was younger, I had plenty of outlets, plenty of distractions, and I used them all, but the biggest, most effective one was basketball. I could forget absolutely anything while I was on the court. I had put some of my largest hurts behind me by just playing ball. It was almost effortless how I could transition from crying over a fight with a boyfriend to scoring big points in a big game. I could even lose myself in practices. I used basketball to get past the death of our beloved athletic director my junior year of high school. After all, nothing would honor him more than a good solid win, right? So I just kept moving through it, and I learned that basketball was a pretty strong weapon against death. Especially once I got to college and it completely consumed me.

The summer after my freshman year of college, just after the 4th of July my mom informed me of a classmate passing. For most people who come from class sizes of well into the hundreds, that might just be momentarily sad, but for my small class of 31 it was monumental, the first one of us. Amanda and I weren't best friends. None of the girls in my class played basketball, so outside of school I honestly didn't see them much, but in school we all knew each other pretty well. We attended dances together in one big group. I still have a group picture from prom of all of us girls. Amanda used to talk to me online whenever she got the chance. I never really knew all the details, but she was usually pretty upset about something, and I listened and tried to give advice. This went on a lot in high school, and it continued after I left for college. The only difference was that I didn't have as much time to be online once I got to college, so we didn't chat as frequently. A bomb went off in my head when my mom told me that she had taken her own life. Was there something more I could have done? Should I have spent more time chatting with her? Been more attentive? Did I miss something? I didn't like these thoughts, and so I did what I had taught myself to do. I ran.

Summer break for basketball players is not usually the same as it is for normal college students. Immediately after the 4th of July weekend I began a summer class session and continued with my workouts. I threw myself right back into it hard. This was my new life. These were my new friends. In my mind at that time, anything else was just a novel I read or a song that I heard. Shamefully I didn't bother contacting anyone about Amanda's service to even attempt to go to it. I never told my coach or any of my teammates about it. I ran from it, and to this day I feel as though it never happened. I know better, but in my mind she is just a friend that I lost touch with many years ago, not unlike the many others. Each time that we pack up and move I still see her smiling face in my framed prom picture. She is eternally my young instant messenger friend.

I spent many more years oblivious of death around me. Even 9/11 seemed like something out of a novel, and I didn't know anyone personally involved so I tried very hard not to let that sink in too deeply. Basketball and college came to an end, and I had fewer things to keep me busy and running. I moved and took a very fast paced, busy job at the Charlotte airport the fall after graduating college. Life kept moving. I was working a lot of hours, helping my sister plan a wedding, and planning my own. Our wedding and honeymoon, though wonderful, both went by in a blur. I guess once you're in the habit of running through life, it's hard to slow down to appreciate the view laid before you. Six weeks after our wedding, and five years after Amanda's death, I got another awful phone call. An old and dear childhood friend of mine had been murdered at the age of 25. David and I had spent the very beginnings of our lives together. His mother babysat me when my mom went to work. David and I were less than two years apart. We watched movies together, played with G.I. Joes, and Play-Dough together, and tormented our older sisters together. Many of my very first memories were made with him. Though I hadn't seen him since high school, and hadn't legitimately hung out with him since middle school, this call hit me like a ton of bricks. He died in New Mexico while going to school down there, but his services were going to be held in Watkins Glen, NY where he had grown up since moving there when he was in elementary school. I didn't have basketball to turn to, and I couldn't focus on my job taking care of all the "runners" at the airport. I was done running. We had just seen Bonnie, David's mother, at our wedding six weeks ago, and no matter how long it had been before that, a dear family friend is a dear family friend. She had changed my diapers for goodness sake! We packed up from North Carolina and drove straight up to New York.

I faced that death head on. Though the story was like some surreal story out of a thriller novel, I let it all seep in, and I felt deeply for all of his close friends, and family. David was one of those old friends that I always imagined getting back together with someday with each of our own families. He nearly flew up for our wedding but because of a new job he couldn't make it and postponed his flight home for six weeks later...which meant that his mom had to use his flight to bring him home for his service. It was gut wrenching.

Life got busy again, but I was prepared this time. I framed pictures of David to hang in our house so that I would never forget, so that it wouldn't be easy for me to run from death, or romanticize it, or put it in a place in my brain meant only for sad books, movies, and songs. His smiling face is on our walls still reminding me of how precious this life is. 

Since David's death, now almost five years ago, I have been to five funerals and three of those five were friends in their 20s. Those are always the most devastating; young lives with so much promise ahead of them suddenly removed from this world. On Sunday I will be attending my third funeral in nine months. My grandmother, my dad's mom, passed away early this morning. She was ready. She said she just wanted to see her mom. I am grateful that she is no longer in pain, and is reunited with her mother.

I didn't realize it at the time, but never making it to Amanda's service had devastated me. Of course I ran from that devastation and I run from it still. Now I have children and housework to keep me busy. But now I understand the importance of closure, saying goodbye in one form or another. Running from death doesn't make life better. It makes life a busy blur. If you're numb to death, you become numb to life. You can't deal with life and what life has to offer without dealing with death, and you can't face death without dealing with life. And I have to remember the hope that there is in Jesus Christ, that there is life beyond this world as He promises. If we succumb to the devastation and trauma that death leaves behind in this world, that is when we find ourselves running, and when we run we face plant directly into things of this world that can't give us any comfort. Playing basketball, as much as I loved it, was not providing the comfort that I needed. It was providing a distraction. Cleaning house, cooking, performing daily tasks without end, partying, and busying ourselves to the point of exhaustion are only fuel for the fire. It will all catch up to you. We cannot outrun death. That is for certain, but if we focus on the hope that is Jesus, the love of our family and friends, and the life we've been given, we can run for a purpose, not just for a distraction.

***Written in loving memory of all those we've lost in this race, in hopes of the day we meet again.*** 
*Grandpa M
*Grandma L

*Leave the names of those who've left a footprint in your life. Remember them always.

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." Psalm 42:7

No comments:

Post a Comment