This week, I went to my third Buddhist funeral. I've had opportunities to go to many others, but chose not to. This one, however, I felt that I needed to attend. One of the students from my very first homeroom class passed away from brain cancer this week. His name was Sean, he was in his early 20's, and he had been fighting cancer for nine and a half years.
(This is from fall of 2010, when Sean was in my class - he's the one with glasses)
(From spring of 2011 - Sean is in the back row, this time without glasses)
I did not know Sean very well - I had only spoken to him a few times since he graduated in March of 2011, but deep in my heart I am greatly affected by his death. The loss of so young a life, of someone who was passionate about living life, is heartbreaking.
I pondered this as I sat through one night of his funeral. I thought about life as I listened to the monks chant prayers in Sanskrit, as I smelled the burning incense from the front of the room, and as I watched the people around me and tried to gather some meaning of what was happening. I wondered how many people around me at that funeral felt a genuine desire to live life to its fullest, to find joy wherever it is, to be at peace with everyone, and to focus on every moment as it presents itself. I also wondered how many people felt desperate inside. Empty. Like life has no point because it always ends in death.
As odd as this sounds after that description, when I think about that experience, I realize that God was there. God is everywhere. He does not come and go, but he remains. He is. It is in this knowledge that I find comfort. God did not simply give up on Sean's life. He did not give up on the lives of others I have known who have passed away suddenly or not so suddenly, from cancer or from other causes. God has not given up on my life, and he certainly has not given up on the lives of the people of Thailand.
How do I know this?
Well, 'tis the season, right?
God became human. He sacrificed himself. We now get to live every day in the presence of the One who created everything and gave everything. The one who is.
Last year at this time, as I felt Gerrit moving around inside me, I was filled with wonder at the idea of the King of the universe becoming a helpless infant. I was amazed at life. How beautiful. How imperfect and yet perfect at the same time. This year, right now, I find myself in awe of the One who conquered death. What a sacrifice. What a blessing. What a message to send to everyone around you: there is hope, even when things seem hopeless.
Let's live our lives in a way that shouts that message. Let's live in hope, spread joy, and bring shalom.