In my message on Sunday morning, I was overcome with sadness and I want to tell you why.
A few minutes after 10am, I discovered that a man who was my neighbor had passed away from a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. Immediately upon reading, I broke and could not contain the tears that flowed and the grief that racked my body.
To be honest, the pain was a little surprising. I loved him, but hadn’t seen him in many years, like more than 30. (I know not seeing someone for 30+ years makes me VERY old, but we’re not discussing my age. I still look 18 in just the right light from the right angle and distance, and while the running I did this morning makes me feel 144, I usually feel better than I did in college.) It just came so quickly, without time to think or process. I was just crying. Hard.
They were my neighbors when I was a young child, almost a mirror of my own family. The boy was my age, the girl was my sister’s age, their mom was my mom – and almost as awesome, which is high praise indeed – and their dad, my dad. Our dads didn’t hang out, they both liked their time in their own homes, but we all saw each other everyday.
He passed last Thursday during the COVID-19 global shutdown, which means that there will be no service and that this wonderful family will mourn together alone. Without lines of people waiting to love them and without eloquent eulogies and without Psalm 23. I know God is there with them, we’re loving them from here, and Psalm 23 is always there about 1/3 into the Bible. But it feels totally wrong and I hate COVID-19 for it right about now.
It’s a common thing to ask “why?” in this situation, and maybe I will, maybe they are, but I just want to wrap my arms around each of them and tell them how much he mattered to me, even though for 30 years I didn’t recognize it. And tell them how thankful I am that he was in my life.
So, why did he matter to me? After the choked up Sunday sermon on Ruth was over, I mostly just sat in a prayer without words, and when Gisy asked me later, “Do you know why you’re surprised? If it’s that painful, there must have been something special about him,” I had an answer. There WAS something special about him.
He was a man.
In a world where boys grow up into bigger boys, irresponsible, inconsistent, chasing something – who knows what??? Maybe past glory, addictions, pleasure, power, money, status. Maybe they chase to remember, maybe to forget. Maybe to feel or to numb. Who knows? What I know for a fact is that there is a disheartening lack of authentic masculinity. I was always looking to be inspired by the example and leadership of men.
Of course it’s an old-fashioned idea, but that doesn’t make it wrong. Incidentally, I was also looking to be inspired by the example and leadership of smart, strong, courageous women, but there were SO MANY more of those. I had 2 in my own home growing up. Men were much harder to come by, and as a boy, perhaps I couldn’t have named it, but I was looking for someone to show me how to do it; how to grow into one who loved Jesus, his wife and family well, who was consistently genuine, merciful, faithful, trustworthy, loyal, kind and strong, a peaceful warrior, open, safe, and passionate. How was I supposed to know?
He was a man, and there are too few of those in the world, and now that he’s gone, there are less. That was what I mourned, I think. I mourn for his wife and children and friends, that he is now gone and they are without him. But I really liked living in a world with him in it, there was something comforting to know he was here. I guess I mourn for all of us, that a beautiful man is gone and we are without him.