I never knew him.
The same could be said of many whose voices have fallen on my ears—whose hands I have shaken—whose eyes I’ve looked into.
Him, I never spoke with—never laid eyes on.
The young African-American man was moved by an article I wrote and was kind enough to send a note telling me so. We were connected only by the information superhighway, a mode of transport that never brought us closer than a note here, a click of the “like” button there.
Friends, they call it.
As if applying the label could tie the cords to bind individuals together. As if we could struggle past our differences in locale and in community.
He was a student of the martial arts; I a student of classical music. He was city through and through; I lock the doors to my car on the outskirts of any urban center, unlocking them only if there is no other choice or when I have passed the city limits sign on the other side.
And yet, it seemed there was something there—a connection of sorts.
Tears filled my eyes on the day he wrote the words: He’s gone. Sitting right across the table from me, and he dropped dead.
His best friend had died of a massive heart attack as they sat eating and joking. He never got over it.
I wrote a note, which he acknowledged. We exchanged other notes, but they were vague and disconnected. Something had changed.
A few months later, I was shocked to read the words from a relative in a message to the young man’s online friends.
Tonight, he decided there was nothing left worth living for. I’m sorry to have to tell you this way. Thanks for being his friends.
I know. I cry too easily. This was different.
A friend died, his life ended before he was a quarter of a century old.
I never knew him.
Still, he was my friend, my brother. The tears flowed.
They fill my eyes even now.
Can I tell you something? Even if I had never exchanged a word with him, we would have been connected. Even if his name had never been in the listing of friends I had made in my social network, it would be true.
If I haven’t made it clear enough before in my writing, let me say it again here:
We are all connected. All.
There was one Man who insisted on it. At the crossroads of history, He stood and said: If I do this—if I allow myself to be the sacrifice—it will be for every human whose heart beats within his breast. I will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32)
I am not a universalist. Many who are drawn will not come. I know that.
And yet, what if all that is standing between one who is drawn and the Man-God I claim to follow is me?
Or what if—on the flip side of the coin—what if I’m the one who will help that one who is drawn to make up his or her mind?
If I say I love God, but do not love my brother, I am a liar. The truth is not to be found in me. (1 John 4:20)
I watch with horror as the barriers are being erected. High and strong, the walls are being fortified.
We argue about words and slogans, while people die. We insist on our version of truth while souls hang in the balance.
I’m convinced we will meet again one day, where no barrier stands. Together, beyond that dividing line between this earthly existence and eternity in Heaven, we’ll stand and will weep as we realize the powerful truth of His words.
All men. Black, white, brown—called out of every nation, every tribe.
Drawn to Him—away from worship of false gods, from following false prophets, from teaching false doctrines.
We’ll weep until He wipes away the tears from our eyes Himself. (Revelation 21:4)
I said earlier that I cry too easily. I wonder.
Perhaps we need to cry more while we’re here, not less.
My young friend who abandoned hope sat and listened to music right before he took his last breath. Missing his friend who had died before his eyes, he thought he heard in the words of the song an invitation to join him.
Perhaps, it seemed easier than walking a difficult, lonely road without him.
Another young friend, who also has known the horrible pain and emptiness of losing someone he loves, wrote recently of his struggle to comprehend a God who allows such things.
He has reached the conclusion—not lightly nor easily—that likely, it’s our understanding of God that is flawed and not the other way around.
We build a box and stuff God in it, much as we do with people.
Neither will stay in the boxes we have built.
He is too big.
People are too stubborn.
And yet, out in the open seems dangerous, doesn’t it? Too exposed, too brightly lit, too vulnerable.
But we’ve tried hiding. It achieves nothing lasting, leaving only suspicion and hatred.
Perhaps, it’s time to try openness.
There’s more room for hugging and handshakes out here.
There will even be some tears.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
So let the light guide your way, yeah
Hold every memory as you go
And every road you take, will always lead you home, home
It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again.
(See You Again ~ Franks, Puth, Thomaz ~ 2014)
How wonderful and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in harmony!
For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil
that was poured over Aaron’s head,
that ran down his beard
and onto the border of his robe.
Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon
that falls on the mountains of Zion.
And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,
even life everlasting.
(Psalm 133 ~ NLT)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.