Yesterday morning, my oldest son Travis called with bad news. A friend had died, a friend he’d been close to in high school youth group at church. It was a young man we knew, who had been in our home, and who always displayed grace and humor and intelligence.
Alex died last week from complications following surgery for Crohn’s Disease. He was 31. The death was a shock to family and friends, and especially to his wife, who’s carrying their first child; the baby is due in July. We all ache for her, for his parents Rick and Jo, for his sisters Erin and Adrienne, and for his unborn child.
Life is sometimes an ache, a piercing ache.
I have three significant memories of Alex.
At a surprise 18th birthday party for my son, Alex was crestfallen in find the bowl of Skittles empty. He stared at it with his big piercing eyes. I walked to the kitchen, found the bag of Skittles, and promptly handed it over to him. His face lit up with a huge smile, and he just nodded and stared at the bag.
Two years later, a mutual friend of my son’s and Alex’s, and one of my son’s closest friends, committed suicide at college in Michigan. My son was devastated. We scrambled to try to find a last-minute airline reservation, but there was none to be had. We couldn’t imagine Travis driving to Michigan – he grieving and an emotional basket case. Alex stepped forward to drive him to Michigan for the funeral.
Several years after that, I was in a jewelry store in the downtown section of our little suburb, looking for a present for my wife, when who should walk in but Alex. He was shopping, too – for an engagement ring. We talked and he told me about the young woman he was going to ask to be his wife. It was the last time I saw him.
A natural question is why. Why did this happen? For a Christian, the question becomes, why did God let this happen?
Here’s a secret shared by all Christians: sometimes it’s easier not to believe in God. Sometimes it’s easier to chalk it up to fate or karma or the vagaries of the universe. Or simply tell yourself “Things happen.” But when you believe in God, and something like this happens, it grabs you and your faith by the throat.
I confess: I asked that question a dozen times yesterday. I’ll likely ask myself that question at least a dozen times more.
I don’t have an answer. It seems senseless, perhaps because it is senseless to my human mind.
But as I questioned, images started coming to mind.
That smile for the bag of Skittles.
The heart and the compassion to drive a distraught friend to a very hard, very difficult funeral.
The look of joy on a young man’s face as he talked about the girl he was going to marry.
Alex died too soon, yes. He died too young. He should have lived to old age, yes.
But for the time he was here, for the time he walked among us and laughed with us and spoke to our hearts, for the time we knew him, Alex reflected the beauty and love and grace of God.
And we are blessed.
A Facebook memorial page has been set up by friends of Alex. The stories people are telling about him will bring tears.