Because it cannot be bought, love is the rarest commodity in the world.
How can we get it, then? Where do we get the solutions to our problems?
In Albert Camus’ last university lecture, he put it beautifully:

"I believe...that it is awakened, revived, nourished by
millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day
negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result,
there shines forth fleetingly the ever threatened truth that each and
every man, on the foundations of his own sufferings and joys,
builds for them all."
The solutions have to come from each of us, the very people
who need them. We all need love, so we all must give it.
This is the drive behind my efforts. I wish to spend my life serving
the people of our world, and to continually improve the way I serve it.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

To Live Is To Love

My high school science and math teacher died yesterday. She had gotten in a car accident a couple of weeks ago and was reportedly recovering nicely. Her son, who flew in to visit her in the hospital, even went home because she was doing so well. I have not heard why yet, but she passed yesterday morning. I will miss her, that is certain. She was a great teacher, and I am very critical of teachers. She taught me a lot that the curriculum did not require her to. She was a wonderful woman.

It reminds me of the summer of 2006, though. A 15 year-old friend of mine died that June. Many of my friends who knew him, and I, were on a mision trip in Oklahoma when we heard about it. We were singing "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman before we got the news. Ironically, some lyrics in the song are, "You give and take away, you give and take away, but my heart will choose to say 'Lord blessed be Your name!'" The following is the second half of a paper I have just finished writing. It is long, but it tells how Stan died, and my many thoughts on the matter of life and death.

To Live Is To Love
The music faded and more eyes started to open and peek at the rest of the room. The song stopped, and I watched the screen for the next song sheet to go up. Five, ten, then thirty seconds went by. The next sheet should have been put up. I craned my neck to see if anyone was bending over the old projector. More of the kids began to peer up at the front. Then, the door to the front right corner of the room opened, and Doug followed Tom as they slowly made their way to front and center. Then Tom very kindly said, “Could everyone please sit down where they are.” At first, I thought, “Oh, they just have something to tell us, no big deal.” Tom did not usually speak that kindly; though, and we still had another song to sing. He also kept looking down, and Doug would not stop biting his lip. I could not help but think, “Why is a forty year old man biting his lip with such a troubled look on his face? What could be bothering him that much?” Something did not feel right when Tom began, “Kids, everyone”, he paused, “Doug just received a phone call from someone back in Big Rock. I’m not sure which of you knew him, but Stan Janik is dead. We’re not sure how.” “What?” was all I could think, at first. I soon realized that I was not dreaming. However, I had never experienced the death of anyone very close to me; I took a long time to make sense of what I just heard.

I was with him at a birthday party only days before the trip. We talked and played volleyball in Cassie’s back yard; he was laughing and being awesome as usual. Stan was not my best friend, but I knew him fairly well. He was also younger than I was, but I respected him above my other peers. I admired the way he cared for everyone, regardless of his or her “coolness” rank. We all identified kids who were overweight or had poor socializing skills, but Stan actually talked with them. In my eyes then, he acted as if they were as good as the rest of us; he was just being nice. In his mind, I am sure now that he was not pretending that they were equal. When I did not understand just how equal we all are, Stan set a great example. He easily fit in every “clique”, but could not have cared less if none existed. The cynical notion that he was “too happy” was the only negative attribute anybody could claim that Stan had. His words during conversations or in P.E. were positive and encouraging, especially when others failed to be. “Hey you can’t get ‘em all!” he would say when he saw that someone was embarrassed after making a mistake, or “That’s alright, mine was way worse than that!” Unfortunately, I did not appreciate his value until he was gone.

My eyes sank with a puzzled thought, “He’s…dead?” I did not understand it. I could not grasp the idea. I searched for some sort of answer. Instead, the overhead bulb blew, and along with it went any chance at rationality. Now the only light that was coming into the room was through the open door. The adults told small groups to split off into the other rooms to pray, but I did not want to go out there yet. Thankfully, my group was in this room. Still in utter disbelief, I lapsed into another dimension. My brain was nearly jammed, hardly capable of focusing. I lifted my heavy limbs and slogged towards the wall opposite the exit. I collapsed onto the swamp-colored carpet under the big windows. The brick sent a cool chill down my back. It woke me up a little. I turned my head to the right and noticed that I was several feet away from my group, but I stayed against the wall.

I stared down at the floor with my eyebrows furrowed. I tried to think logically. “Okay Stan is dead. But…why? He was such a good kid. I mean I know people always say that, but he was! He made everybody smile. He was always laughing, or playing some fun game, or making somebody feel better. What good is he dead? This doesn’t make any sense. His parents must be devastated. Why would this happen? He’ll miss the rest of his life. All of the people he knew will have to go on without him. I’ll never talk to him again.”

I found out why people cry when someone close to them dies. The injustice was overwhelming. I could not handle the fact that so many bad things would happen because of this. I thought about how people could become depressed. Mr. and Mrs. Janik would be heartbroken, their only son, and a huge part of their lives, was gone forever. I could not see how it was fair, why it should happen, so I cried. When I heard the news, my eyes had sunk in blank sadness. Now, I was miserable about everything. My heart sank to the floor, and my face fell into my hands. I cried and cried and cried. I was so distraught I could hardly focus on what exactly was so sad anymore. It was all just bad, bad, bad. “Nothing good can come from this,” I kept thinking. Every time I recalled a reason for my crying, I cried even harder. I imagined Stan’s parents sitting side-by-side on his empty bed, weeping. I thought about Ryan, Stan’s best friend since their early childhood. Whom would he hang out with after school everyday? I became overwhelmed with grief for Stan, others, and myself. I fell into a stupor as my heart sank through the carpet, through the concrete even, and the tears kept rushing down between silent sobs. I felt so bad it seemed as if the world was over. I thought nothing could be done to fix this upheaval in my heart.

I cried for about two hours, and I was exhausted. I did not think I could cry any more. I overheard the group to my right talking about how he died. By that time, they had received more information. They said he had just come back from the gym and went to his room. His parents said nothing out of the ordinary happened. He said “Hey” to them and went to put his bag down. His dad, Stan Sr., went in to ask him how his workout went and found him laying on the bed, Stan’s his heart had stopped. He was born with an enlarged heart, and nobody ever knew. I felt like crying again, but I could not any more. My head was so gloomy with depressing thoughts. My eyes were open, but they were cast downward and out of focus. I imagined his dad going in to see him, expecting to see him sitting on his bed and looking up to smile at him when he walked in. Instead, he saw him laying to his side with an expressionless face. This was his only son.

I thought about how young he was, how quickly it happened. He was so healthy. I cannot ever remember him being sick. When he had his shirt off for soccer practice, it was obvious that he was in great physical shape. He also ran harder and longer than anyone; nobody could match him. I found myself sometimes observing that he went unnecessarily fast towards the ball because he would overrun it. That is just how much energy he had. He never wanted to stop either. He was never glad that a long grueling practice had ended; he made jokes about running another perimeter. Everyone else moaned and trudged to the parking lot.

Nobody could have predicted that the most energetic, positive kid in school would go so quickly and so soon. “Oh man,” I thought, “If Stan could go so suddenly, I could too. I’ve always heard that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, I guess it’s really true.” I was shocked. The only way I could express this new feeling was with a wide-eyed “Whoa.” “I could die on the way home…man, I might not even wake up tomorrow…” This was big. I was not ready to go. “No way, I don’t want to die yet. I don’t even know if I’ll make it into Heaven.” I was not a horrible kid, but I sure was not as loving as Stan had been. Then, it came to me: “All I need to do…is obey God. All He wants us to do is love the people around us and give him praise. Life is just that simple.” The guilt made sense now. It was God’s way of letting me know that I hurt someone. All of my past feelings of remorse and regret flooded into focus. I did start crying again, but because I was ashamed. I realized how selfish I was. I had wounded so many people. I was mortified. I definitely needed to make some changes. I broke down and told Him how sorry I was for everything, all of my cruel words and deceitful actions. I stopped crying. “That’s it!” I nearly exclaimed aloud. “That’s why Jesus is our savior. I’ll always be imperfect. As hard as I try from now on, I’ll never be able to do everything that God wants me to do and not do everything he doesn’t. But that’s okay, because Jesus died so that we can always be forgiven. I just have to believe. Well I believe!” I told God that I would try my hardest to do what is good. I told Him that I wanted to put my focus on Him and other people. I realized that He just wants us to be happy; so, if I do what he says, then I will be happy, and I will be helping the people around me to be happy too. Because of Stan’s death, I realized that I needed to change.

Life had meaning now; it is more than “me, me, me”. Through Stan, God taught me to obey Him. In the same moment, when Stan’s heart stopped beating, true life passed into mine. Stan’s passing showed me that we are here for a time, we love and do what we are meant to do, and we leave. I do not know how long I will be here for, so I must act each day as if it is my last. Yes, it was unfortunate that Stan had to leave so many people behind, but it was his time. He did what he was made to do, and he did it well. God felt that Stan deserved to come home to Heaven. I see this now. To this day, I am inspired by the death of my friend, Stan Janik. “You give and take away!” The words from the worship song came true. His physical end sparked a spiritual beginning for me. After that trip, I discovered my favorite Bible verse: “All things work for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Stan’s life and death gave me hope in a more rewarding life through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. I am now motivated to humbly love others which also makes God happy. I will strive to be a better person for others’ sake until the end of my life. Some day, because Stan did his job, I hope to reside in Heaven.

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Leslie said...

It's hard to understand the pain we feel when someone close to us dies. Each of us has something to share in life-why not let it be LOVE? Life is temporary so why not LOVE all you can and try to make a difference for others.

Your blog is very nice. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts.


Anonymous said...

The fear of God is the beginning of the Bible says. I used to "try" to find it within me this fear of my Maker. Where I'm at right now is the simple awareness you mention that I NEED JESUS! I see my shortcomings so clearly as stains on my soul that I fear being out of my Lord's shrowd of grace.

I don't know why Stan died, but I do know that our view of this life is likely far different than God' some things we just have to trust our way through, even if understanding escapes us.

Thanks for sharing these honest, real emotions. I'm loving this blog network I'm discovering!


Timmy said...

Wow Jim, thank you for the awesome encouragement and insightful thoughts! The Blogosphere needs more Bloggers like you! :]