When I was younger and firmly entrenched in fundamentalist youth group life, it was expected of us to read our Bibles on a daily basis. In fact, in the ‘discipleship’*–a word which truly has no meaning, and has no real foundation in the scriptures–program we were in that would have certainly made Jim Jones envious for its rigorous control over every aspect of our lives, we were expected to read scripture for a certain amount of time a day. Of course, when we are expected to meet an obligation or metric, the process takes a back seat to fulfilling the process. It doesn’t matter what is read, as long as there is some kind of reading-type activity for a certain length or amount of time. I couldn’t tell you how many nights–in this respect, I still bucked the system in that nearly every ev-fundie is supposed to read in the morning–I simply met the temporal obligation and had no idea whatever it was I was actually reading. (No surprise exegesis is such a tricky affair for the aforementioned to get, and such a lost art amongst them…and why they continue to subsist amongst us.)
[* – in doing a spell check prior to publishing, this word got the red underline treatment. i told you it has no meaning! –b.]
In the days I was not a part of the First Assembly Youth League, I simply resorted to reading a chapter a day. Never mind the fact that the chapter and verse breaks in the scriptures are largely arbitrary, I was fulfilling my sacred duty! For this reason, the minor prophets, Psalms and those little books at the end of the Bible were delightful, Isaiah, Leviticus, Jeremiah and the gospels were a pain. And no one ever touched Revelation, that was for pastors who were well-indoctrinated with Walvoord’s eschatological dispensationalist horsecrap.
Long books and long chapters, bad. Short books and chapters, good. It’s being a good, pragmatic little Jesus freak, emphasis on freak.
It was ten years ago tomorrow that one of the most surreal, wonderful, horrifying, beautiful, regrettable– and short–chapters of my life abruptly ended.
I was in my third year at a Bible college in Minnesota, Christina was in her senior year at UWSP. We met through my stint as an intern at the church where I grew up in the summer, during which I first became exposed to and active in campus ministry. When I returned to school for the fall, we kept in contact, and eventually developed a very unique relationship. It wasn’t merely friendship, nor was it explicitly romantic–though there were those elements present. It was somewhere in between, in the way that a lot of inter-sexual friendships are when someone is in late adolescence or early adulthood. She was more courageous than I was: she actually told me how she felt. I was a coward and wouldn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) share my feelings.
On January 16, 2002, Christina was killed in a car accident returning to school for the spring semester.
I had just finished my first day of classes in Minnesota and was settling in to get a head start on readings for class when I got the call around 11.30 that night. I drove home that night and the next week and a half was a blur of sleepless nights, long conversations, tears and laughter, several hundred miles of travel, one funeral, one memorial service and bizarre experiences which threaten to defy description. I was asked to speak at both the funeral and memorial service, both of which remain to this day some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. I only knew her for eight months or so, and yet she was one of my very best friends.
Every year around this time, I think back and remember my friend, those experiences, the ways in which our little community banded together and the ways in which we’ve drifted apart, because that’s what life does. For whatever reason, the ten-year mark was a different beast altogether. I’ve found myself that much more emotional about it, more uneasy, more mournful. There’s nothing about the number ten that should make this anniversary any different from the others that have preceded it, but this time is more painful, and I can’t explain why.
Tomorrow will pass, those of us who haven’t forgotten will pay our respects in our own ways. But the moment we take life and all its nouns for granted is the moment we begin to treat it as we did our ironically-named devotions. The chapters, however long, do not matter: the content does. One can read the scriptures regularly for years and never come away with anything meaningful, whereas a person can engage the story and not be able to come away unscathed. One can go through life for him or her self and finish with nothing, or we can engage this life and allow it to affect us in the way that only life can, in all its beauty and terror, its glory and despair, joys and sorrows.
And anyone in the right place at the right time, for reasons left only to God or the fates, can, given the opportunity, completely upend life as you know it. The short chapters can be just as profound, if not more so, than the long ones, if we’re seeking content and substance and not the fulfillment of an obligation. Then again, if we’re going for content, what difference does it make how long a chapter may or may not be, anyway?
Time is nothing compared to the depth of relationships. If my experience and loss taught me anything, it is to care more for people than anything else, a less I frequently tend to have to remind myself. I’ve learned to let go of relationships or people which take me for granted or do more harm than good, and to embrace those who infuse me with life and vision. I no longer see people as objects, but as potential and stories. My reason for being is finding ways to make that story epic, and to realize potential in others. In so doing, my journey becomes something greater, and what is actualized is far more than anything I could engineer on my own.
In this respect, the effect Christina had on me lives on. When we live courageously, we never die; we endure in the people we love. A decade later, the words I write are inspired by a person I knew for eight months. Immortality is pursuing the wind if we do so while neglecting to let the people in our lives know how much they are valued and loved. Life is too fragile and too short for anything less.
That said, if we give ourselves over to selflessness and unrelenting passion for those in our lives, we need not worry about our place in history. People matter more than posterity, and those who have truly been remarkable in understanding this usually end up the stuff of legend, precisely because they’re not worried about it. Who, by worrying, can add an hour to his life?
Let others be your legacy and, though your name may be lost in time, you will never be forgotten.
Good night, Christina. I still miss you.