Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bigger than all of us

Back in my days in high school, my favorite teacher was a gentleman named Eric Stanley. He was funny and charming and, for some odd reason, particularly enjoyed me and my group of friends. I liked him so much, I took three years of French from him, including a class he created just for us called 'French III' my senior year that consisted of merely five students. And though I can only recall one or two phrases from that language to this day, I still had some of my fondest memories with him and that class.

Many of those memories came from my French Club experience, where I served as president for two years. Now, let's be honest, we didn't really do a whole lot of anything. Sure, we had those typical student functions like a candy sale or a field trip to a French restaurant. So, in my senior year, I really wanted to do something spectacular ... so I helped organize a trip to Walt Disney World.

Why? Well because of the World Showcase in Epcot, of course.

Like the rest of my friends, Charles joined us for this trip, as well as did his now wife, then girlfriend, Wendy. During some down time in our room - in the Embassy Suites, which was big time for kids in high school away from their parents - the three of us were sitting around watching TV or something. I'm not entirely sure how this situation developed, but I remember the toilet beginning to rapidly, and I mean rapidly overflow.

Now, this wasn't a alien situation to me at all because, well, I grew up with my father. But the only way I knew how to deal with this situation was with a plunger, and that device was sorely lacking as the dirty water began to pour all over the bathroom floor. Compounding the problem was this mystical lack of ability for Wendy or I to do anything aside from stare.

Charles, in one fluid motion, leaps past us into the bathroom, plunges his arm up to his elbow into the toilet, wiggles it around until a loud 'whoosh' is heard and the toilet magically flushes.

Wendy and I, understandably, are partially amazed and partially horrified as he stands there, grinning, with his arm delicately balanced like a surgeon about to operate. I ask him 'how did you do that?' He replies ... 'I'm a Rozier' and slams the door with the other hand and quickly turns on the shower afterward.

It's an odd story, sure, but it's also one of my favorite memories of the guy. It's funny and random and, in a weird way, kinda sweet. And it's typical of him.

I tell you this because, on Friday, I went to the funeral for Charles and Wendy's daughter.

It was a nice service, and lots of family and friends were able to come. Charles had a friend from his days in Columbia, S.C., deliver the message which I understand was a good one, but I was mostly too numb to absorb much of it (and I don't mean that as a slight against the poor lad's preaching skills ... seriously, I'm sure he's quite good).

It's just that loss, particularly this kind of loss, is difficult to process.

As the service ended, I shook Charles's hand as I came out, and I just cried. I didn't say anything to him. I just gripped his hand and looked down and cried.

I cried because it's one of my oldest friends, and he is having to endure this awful experience. I cried because it doesn't seem fair that a beautiful little girl only got to experience a mere hour of her parents' love and compassion. I cried because I'm having a little girl, and even though I've never met her outside of the ever-expanding bump that is The Wife's stomach, I love her more than I've ever loved anything on this planet. I cried because I couldn't imagine - I can't imagine - my place in this world where I won't have the ability to teach her everything that is wonderful about this life.

So I just cried.

And Charles looked at me, smiled, and just kept saying 'It's OK. It's all going to be OK.'

And, even as I type that, I begin to shake ... because my friend who had lost so much was the one comforting me. It's partially ridiculous, quite frankly. The one who was suffering was the one who was comforting, but that's because Charles got it.

Despite all the pain, and despite the fact that he and his wife are going through a very real grieving process, Charles got that everything about that moment was bigger than all of us.

Typically, when moments of incredible joy or harrowing sorrow come over me, I try to put my thoughts on paper, as they say. It's not that I can't sit down and have a deep, emotional conversation with someone, it's just that, for some reason, I feel as if I have a better opportunity to express myself if I can just jot it down.

When my father was sick and going to get a stem-cell treatment, I wrote him a lengthy note thanking him for everything he ever taught me. When I was eight years old, I wrote my mother a note on Mother's Day telling her she was, and I quote, 'the best mommy ever.' If I am engaging in a debate with someone, I work to write down my thoughts in a coherent order to best explain my position.

I wanted to do that here, but I kept struggling to find some sort of text that would underline how I felt about not just the suffering Charles and Wendy were enduring, but about that moment where I grasped my friend's hand and he encouraged me.

And, late Sunday night, it hit me as I was reading Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith by Rob Bell. Now, my buddy Matt had been trying to get me to read this for quite some time, but I was steadily plowing my way through things like an analysis of FDR's famous 'Hundred Days,' so I was hesitant to take on anything new. But on Thursday night, while sitting in his office before an IHN of Athens board meeting, he put that book in my hand and simply said 'read it.'

It was as if he knew that he was a part of this painful, yet incredible journey.

Not only has it been a very fresh and impressive book, but it also presented me with what I was looking for ...

Whatever those things are that make you feel fully alive and like the universe is ultimately a good place and you are not alone, I need a faith that doesn't deny these moments but embraces them. I need a spiritual understanding that celebrates these kinds of transcendent moments instead of avoiding them. These moments can't be tangents. They can't be experiences that distract from 'real' faith. These moments can't exist on the edges, because they are part of our faith. A spirituality that is real will have to make sense of them and show us how they fit. They are expressions of what it means to live in God's world.

I was in Rwanda a few years ago, and a group of us went hiking in the slums of Kigali with a woman named Pauline. Pauline spends her free time caring for people who are about to die from HIV/AIDS. She agreed to takeus to visit one of her friends who only had hours to live. We hiked through this slum for what seemed like miles, and as we got further in, the shacks became smaller and smaller until all we had to walk on were narrow trails with sewage crisscrossing in streams that ran beside, and sometimes under, the shacks.

Eventually we ended up in a dirt-floored, one-room shack about six-by-six feet. A woman was lying under so many blankets that all we could see was her mouth and eyes. Her name was Jacqueline. Pauline had become her friend and had veen visiting her consistently for the past few months. As I knelt down beside her on the floor, I watched Pauline, standing in the corner, weeping. Her friend was going to die soon. What overwhelmed me was the death or despair or poverty. What overwhelmed me was the compassion. In this dark place Pauline's love and compassion were simply ... bigger. More. It is as if the smallest amount of light is infinitely more powerful that massive amounts of dark. The ground was holy.

I'm sure you have had similar experiences. In the strangest of settings, maybe with people you barely know, you become aware that the ground beneath your feet is holy. It is sacred. There's something else, something more, going on here.

I went to a funeral several years ago and walked into the lobby of the chapel and immediately thought I was the first one there. Then I realized I wasn't the first one; the husband of the woman who had died was there, standing over the open casket. I walked over to him as he stood over the body, put my arm around him, and didn't say anything. Just two of us in a big open room, looking down at his wife's body. He just kept saying over and over, 'She was such a good woman; she was such a good woman.' And we stood there together for a while with my arm around his shoulder, and I listened to him repeat, 'She was such a good woman.' The ground was holy.

A young woman in our church gave birth last week to a two-pound baby who died the day after being born. My friend Matt went to the hospital to visit them. When he entered the room, he realized the baby was still there. And the couple was sitting in shock, stunned that this had happened and happened to them. Matt walked in, greeted the couple, and then took the baby in his arms and kissed it.

I wasn't even there, and I can feel the moment. The pain, the anguish, the sense that something else was going on in that room that we only get glimpses of from time to time.

Because it isn't just concerts and surfing and the high points, and it isn't just those beautiful moments in the midst of the everyday and mundane; it is also in the tragic and the gut-wrenching moments when we cannot escape the simple fact that there is way more going on around us than we realize.
- 'Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith' by Rob Bell

Maybe it doesn't work for you, and that's fine. But it works for me, and I hope it works for Charles and Wendy. My thoughts and prayers are with you in this difficult time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My condolences.

Being the father of a two year old (and you being a father to be), I am sure that we cannot appreciate or really imagine the pain of loss that your friends must be going through.


8:28 AM  
Blogger Oconee Democrat said...

beautiful post

9:53 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

I've been to two funerals already in 2007, both for people under 30 - one for a little boy only a couple of months old. And yes, the father was also the rock for many in attendance. There's not much in life harder than that.

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Meims said...

My thoughts are wtih Charles and Wendy. I am so sorry to hear this news.

11:54 AM  

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