Very quickly it gets real when your friend sends an email with the subject:
On October 28th, I received such an email from my friend Pat.
It was typed on his ipad with then gnarled and nearly useless hands rendered so by the cruel and relentless advance of ALS.
Hey bud I would love for you to share about my salvation, high school, college, marriage, and friendship, about six minutes. Miss you already brother.
I agreed...To everything except "six minutes" (six minutes...Really?)
And then I went to work...For a month and a half. Because I would write for a little, and I would cry for a little, and very often, not want to press further into what I felt: At once, privilege and pain.
If you have a lifelong friend, you know what I mean when I speak of the depths of experiences you have had together. The consequential milestones that Pat asked me to reference were not just shared with him by me. But perhaps the cumulative affect of us having shared all of them together gives me a certain perspective that mattered to him. I know his matters like this to me...
Reflecting upon the event of his wife's death, C.S. Lewis wrote: We were setting out on different roads. This cold truth, this terrible traffic regulation ('You Madam, to the right-you, Sir, to the left') is just the beginning of the separation which is death itself.
At 10:05 pm, on Wednesday, December 26, for Pat, for this life, that road finally and completely diverged.
"This terrible traffic regulation..."
But on Monday, December 10. I finished the words I wanted to say about Pat, and decided to drive to Michigan and say them to him.
It seemed to me that even if there were tens of thousands of people to hear what I have to say about my friend, it wouldn't mean nearly as much as if I got to say it to him.
So on Saturday, December 15, Jolynn and I sat with Pat and Dena most of the day. He was confined to a room, a chair, and a body robbed of speech and strength by disease, but the warmth of shared experience and Life is thankfully, much deeper that just conversation.
And, in the end, I was able, through faltering voice and a trail of tears, to look him in the eye and bless him with the words I'd written about him, and will, in a few days, say about him.
I was able to hug his feeble frame and tell him I loved him and would never forget him and that I will see him soon, and share sorrow with hope.
In my closing remarks of his eulogy, I reflected on this truth:
Jolynn and I still live near the places where she and Pat and I grew up. That helps and haunts me.
In these days of Pat’s illness I have often been drawn to a memory. I will tell you about it. I will tell you about a little place in the woods, at the end of a dirt road, on the banks of a trout stream in rural western Pennsylvania …Where one night long ago, Pat and I and a rambunctious dog camped out. We never set up the tent but instead ended up under his truck cap because there was a thunderstorm, typical of our adventures.
I cannot tell you exactly why it is such a sweet and savored memory…Two kids, in the back of that truck, talking about a thousand things between friends. Camping out carefree in a rainstorm. I wish I could go back there for just a little while...
But it will remind me that bitterness is gone for him and for me someday soon…for all of us in Christ.
When, after [we] have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called [us] to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself, [finally] restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish [us].
(1 Peter 5:10)