“His soul sat up. It met me. Those kinds of souls always do – the best ones. The ones who rise up and say “I know who you are and I am ready. Not that I want to go, of course, but I will come.” Those souls are always light because more of them have been put out. More of them have already found their way to other places.” – Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
Our rabbit died this last weekend. A week after escaping his cage and running free for a week, he was hit by a car late at night. I know because I found the dark smudge of his body along the side of the road. He had escaped once before and, as my family and I imagined it, ate dandelions, pranced in the field across from our house, chased butterflies, and had a ball. For a week he indulged, then we caught our dear pet and put him back in his cage. He’d tasted freedom though and it was only a couple days later that he leapt over the cage fencing, a feat to be sure, and ran free once more… for a little while. I don’t know how long it took. I’m hoping not long. We buried him beneath the lilac and woke the girls up to say goodbye.
Death doesn’t follow people, but I’ve seen my fair share.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12
As a boy, I’d stand at the window after the still of the afternoon was broken by a thump, a flutter of feathers, and a dusty after image appeared. I’d look down into the flower garden and cry quietly for the bird lying there. I can only liken it to the joy of Easter Sunday when that bird regained its faculties and flew off. I felt like the world was off of my shoulders. My wife notices, to this day, the change in my demeanor when we come across an animal in the road.
I do not like Death. I do not look forward to it and at 33 I should not.
My brother died when he was nearly fifteen. I was twenty-two at the time and he’d been sick since birth. He’d broken past the “dates of no return” the doctors and specialists had set. He’d long since proven false the gifted education of so many MDs and physicians. He walked, he talked, he ran, he joked, he wrote a book (with one finger, sounding out each word); all in defiance of those who “knew best.” I remember the day he died. I remember screaming without noise in my parent’s bedroom. I remember listening for another intake of breath. I remember my father crying out on his way upstairs, “Oh my son, oh my son!” I remember his last breath. When Death saw his soul sitting up, or rather, when he met Jesus.
Small things take me back into the aftermath of my brother’s death. I can smell root beer on the breath of my own children. I hear the rhythmic pulsing of an oxygen machine. I feel the wispiness of my children’s hair. Every time I eat potato “jo-jos,” as we called them, from the grocery store. Adventures in Odyssey. The death of anyone that I have a connection to reminds me of my brother. But more importantly it reminds me of Death. Of the end of all things.
That person is “not.” Is no longer.
… and yet.
There is a promise. There is an Easter, a resurrection story, an empty tomb, a “catching up in the clouds.” These things I hold dearly. David lamented his son for a time then, without fanfare, wiped his tears away and went about his business. When questioned, he said, “My son cannot come back to me, but I will go to my son.” (2 Samuel 12:23). The forcefulness there. I Will Go. My younger brother cannot and should not come back to my family and I, as much as we’d love to see him. “But,” oh the gloriousness of that word, “But” – We will go to him. And to all the saints of old.
Through one man, the worst was turned around. Flipped on its head. Death worked backwards. A wizard in the face of evil raised his staff and shouted, “you shall not pass!”
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:18-19
It may feel as though the night is long; that hope has left us in the desert surrounded by wolves, but it is not so. We have been passed over, in a way. Passed over by the specter of an endless dying, an endless separation. The Light of Life has shone a great light and thank goodness.
I still cry at the sight of a dead or dying animal. I still ache remembering my brother and so many others who have, as Paul lays it gently, “fallen asleep.” But I will always remember, in the midst of tears and “in-the-desert-anger,” the gift of future life. The blessing of hope and joy from the sacrifice of One.