He was arguably the cutest and most popular boy in the ninth grade. He was one of those guys who was the whole package: good-looking, well liked, really nice, popular, athletic, and a real leader. One of the unattainable boys. He only dated the prettiest and most popular girls, because he could.
I went to a different school the next year and really haven’t thought much about him since. We were only casual friends and didn’t stay in touch. I heard he married his high school sweetheart, but other than that I never knew what happened in his life. So why was it such a gut check when I heard he passed away last week?
I keep thinking of the lines from the John Donne poem, “…any man’s death diminishes me.” Is that it? Of course any man’s death should diminish me. Really, the death of any creature is sad. I was reading in my quiet time this morning about how God cares for the sparrows and how He knows when even one of them falls to the ground. Jerry and I were pondering over our coffee about whether there will be sparrows in Heaven. I hope so. But I don’t think that is really what is troubling me. It’s the last line of the poem that is bothering me, the line about the bell tolling for me. And it’s not bothering me in the way Donne was intending, that when one of us dies a little piece of each of us dies. No, the part that bothers me is that my day is coming, the day when the bell will actually toll for me. And here is the crux of what bothers me. It feels way too soon!
It’s not that I am afraid to die, although I expect that if we are honest all of us are at least a little bit afraid. After all this is uncharted territory. We’ve never done it before. But as a Christian I know that when I die I will go immediately to be with Jesus, and I believe my eternal life will be wonderful beyond comprehension. What bothers me is that I have reached an age where death is not shocking. When one of my peers dies, no one says any more, “Oh she was too young to die.” Death is expected or at least accepted as normal for my age group. Where is the “rage against the dying of the light” that Dylan Thomas wrote about in “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”
Here’s the thing. This time of life has gotten here too soon! Ecclestases 3:2 tells us there is a time to be born and a time to die. I know that God’s timing is perfect but I’m not ready to leave this planet yet. The space between birth and where I am now seems so brief. Twenty years used to seem like a long time but now it goes by in the blink of an eye. Today we are celebrating the 11th birthday of a baby girl who was just born yesterday! Those 11 years went by in a whoosh!
How is it that my peers are dying off? My ninth grade memories don’t seem that far distant. I still carry a little of my 14-year old self. I don’t feel all that old! It seems that I hear of the death of a classmate almost every week now. We baby boomers are keeping that tolling bell busy, and that seems like an atrocity to me. I, for one, am raging against it! I’m not going gentle into that good night.