In the ninth grade, a classmate accidentally shot himself and died. His death was 30 years ago, more than twice my age at the time so it seems odd to notice these connections to it now.
I don’t recall much, other than feeling stunned and sad. But I do remember leaving the funeral and seeing my Spanish teacher across the street with this pained looked of sympathy acknowledging the enormity of his loss was inexplicable, even to grown-ups. I sensed how bad she hurt for me, for all of us young people who had such little experience with death and tragedy. The one who always had the answers had no more than her students.
Death is the great equalizer.
I haven’t thought of him in years until a friend acknowledged his birthday on Facebook. But this isn’t about tragedy or death, but the way we are connected, albeit in ways that can easily be passed off as coincidence.
I recently returned from a trip and told my mom about deceased loved ones I lit candles for in different churches. I lamented that there were others who I’ve known who died that I wish I lit candles for too. She suggested that I light one candle for all those who passed.
Then she mentioned how this would include the boy from ninth grade who had died from the gunshot wound. It had been three decades since we spoke of him. It seemed like such odd timing: my mom thinking of him the same day I prayed for him at weekday mass and only two days after his birthday, without having any knowledge of either. This convergence of recollection seemed like one of those God things. It had been 30 years and for all this to surface in a period of three days seemed supernatural.
I hesitated to write about it because it sounds either trivial or mystical. We live in a world where we want to believe only what we see, hear, touch, and has been validated by science or a positive review on Amazon. We brush off connections as coincidences and miss opportunities to acknowledge glimpses of God, which aren’t constrained by time or logic.
A fellow classmate honoring the birthday of a deceased friend, reminding others of a joyful life and a tragic death, inspiring prayers said by someone who remembers more the face of mercy in a teacher than the details of the funeral, and a mother who has known many of her children’s peers pass away acknowledging just this particular one, reminds me of our connection to each another that is undoubtedly threaded by God’s hand.
I suppose it sounds crazy to think these connections mean something and if you are open enough to think that they could the question easily becomes what do they mean? But I don’t have any more answers than my Spanish teacher did on that sad day. It’s by acknowledging the connection that I feel joy, more aware how those we mourn live on, and the very real ways that God connects all of us through him.
Too often, I am unaware. I look at the concrete, the to-dos, and the should-have done, and I miss the many ways God shows his presence in the physical world.
I was lucky to be reminded of that presence by someone who has long since stopped having a tangible existence himself. Yet he lives on in ways that can seem as elusive as the flicker of a candle, but nonetheless burn bright.
In memory of Michael Field.
You may also want to read a post I wrote about another connection here.
Do you notice “coincidences” in life? Those things that make you pause or send a tingle up your spine. They always remind me how we are connected to one another through God and they always make me feel more hopeful about all that I cannot see and understand. What do you make of them?