Пятница (PYAHT-nee-tsuh): Friday in Russian
It's December. Wow. This year seems to have just flown by. I appreciated celebrating Thanksgiving last week. I love that there is a day set aside to reflect on gratitude. At least, that is how I look at it. Now, it's December and we are into the Christmas season. The holidays are my favorite time of year. People are a bit softer and more compassionate. After the turmoil of November, I think some compassion is desperately needed.
Aside from the intense, vitriolic mess that the election generated, November was difficult because I lost a dear friend. My mother and I drove to eastern Idaho in mid-November for the graveside service for a man who we had known for probably 25 years. His family moved to our hometown because his father was a CES teacher, which is an LDS term for a seminary teacher. Seminary is a class that LDS high schoolers take. Each year they study a work of scripture: for example, this year The Artist is studying the New Testament in his seminary class. Where I grew up in California, we had early morning seminary, which meant that we were in a class at the church before school started. Here in Idaho, my children have release-time seminary which is a class during their school day.
Jon was serving his LDS mission when his parents moved to California. So, when he returned from that mission, he returned to a new city. As we had come to love his family already, several of my girlfriends and I dressed up as hula girls to welcome him home at the airport. His sister and brother-in-law and little nieces were dressed in funny costumes as well This was back in the day when you could go directly to the gate and we made a funny scene. When Jon came off the plane, my girlfriends and I started singing "California Girls" and swaying to a hula. I will never forget the look on his face because he knew none of us. It is a fun memory.
Jon became a good friend. He was always quick with a laugh and a joke. He was always smiling and he had a way of making you feel like you were the most important person in the world.
He also struggled with addiction. And had deep cycles of ups and downs. His life was truly one of good, bad and ugly. When it was good, it was amazing. And when it was bad, it could be ugly and difficult.
Jon passed away in November and when we heard the news, it was devastating for so many of us who loved him dearly. My mom and I drove over to Idaho Falls for the graveside service. As with all funerals, it was so bittersweet because while we grieved with his family, we also found joy in being reunited with old friends.
Jon's life at the time of his death wasn't ideal. But, as the service started, his father asked for people to share their thoughts and memories of Jon. And what followed, touched my heart in ways that I am still processing. It was a bitterly cold day and while there was a partially sheltered tent over the gravesite, the wind was bone-chilling. And yet, there were more than 50 people gathered around the gravesite. As people moved to the front to share their thoughts, I was struck by the fact that there was such a diversity to the group.
One by one people stood and spoke. Some shared memories from when we lived in California. Some shared more recent memories: one man said that Jon saved him, because he was so bereft that he was considering suicide. Another person shared how Jon had taught him how to survive on the street. More than one person shared that Jon was quick to quote scripture. To look at many of these people, you could see that they had lived harsh lives under difficult conditions. The years of addiction were visible.
And then I saw Jon and these amazing people who he had helped without expectation. People to whom he had given everything he had in this world, literally.
How many of us would have seen Jon or any number of these amazing people on the street and looked past them? How many of us would look at them and see a life wasted? Christians talk of God and Grace. We talk of commandments and scriptures. We focus on the sin and forget to love the sinner. We serve often, but we judge too much. We give when it's convenient, not when it's needed.
|The Good Samaritan, Joseph Brickey|
That day at the cemetery, I saw the legacy Jon left behind in the thoughts and tears of those whose lives he touched. I knew that his life wasn't without merit and that God would have welcomed him home, knowing how many lives he changed and how much good he did, despite fighting his own addiction battles.
I have reflected on that day many times over the past couple of weeks. I haven't always liked what I have seen in myself, but I have a fantastic example to look to. The example of a man who never stopped caring, never stopped helping and who gave all he had, literally, to help his fellow man.
I love you, Jon. I expect you'll be among the family and friends who greet me on the other side and I will be looking for that beautiful smile!