My friend’s phone rang at 1:30 am Saturday morning.
It was the call. Any of you that have children old enough to drive know about the call. It is the ring of the telephone in the middle of the night. An awful alarm that snaps you awake from a light, uneasy sleep, because you haven’t yet heard a car pull up, a door open, a sleepy fumbling in the bedroom down the hall as a son or daughter prepares to get safely into bed.
Before the receiver is picked up, there are muttered prayers. Prayers that the voice you are about to hear will be a familiar one. Words that will hold no finality, but will only be an inconvenience: “mom, I have a flat tire” or “dad, we were having so much fun that the time just got away from me.” Excuses that might lead to angry words–but only after that sweet, secret feeling of relief. Everything is OK.
For Lisa and Lance, this was not that call. The words on the other end of the line were stark, flat, business-like: “Ms. Martin, you and your husband should come to the emergency room immediately. There has been an accident.”
The drive to town was hurried and anxious. To make matters worse, their trip was delayed when they had to drive around an accident–two cars mangled and fused from a head-on collision, a Satanic sculpture of twisted metal and shattered glass. One of the cars had been damaged so severely that the emergency crews had cut away a large section in order to remove the driver.
They didn’t make the connection. Perhaps it was their worry and haste to get to the hospital to check on their child, or perhaps it was the severity of the damage to the vehicle.
They did not recognize their first-born son’s car.
The awful realization came at the hospital moments later. The words must have hit them with a force similar to the car that had crossed the center line and slammed head-on into their son’s car.
Twenty-four year old J.R. wasn’t coming home again.
I went to the memorial service with a sense of dread. There is nothing to say that is adequate in such a situation, so I usually say nothing. Perhaps an embrace with a simple “I’m sorry.” Although I’ve only known Lisa and Lance for a short time, I knew from our conversations that they were people of faith, but even people of faith can be devastated by the loss of a son or daughter. A train that is derailed is not easily set back on the tracks, even by the largest of machines. That kind of destruction leaves scars that take time to heal, and it is not pleasant to arrive just after the derailment.
I was surprised by what I experienced. A video in the lobby comprised of pictures of a young man’s short journey through life: J.R. as a baby, in family portraits, in school pictures, hamming it up for the camera. Always smiling, as if every occasion was just another moment of happiness to be savored, every day an ice cream cone waiting to be licked. There were some tears by onlookers, but many more smiles.
My surprise turned to amazement. My friend delivered her own son’s eulogy. It was a wonderful tribute to a much-loved son. We were encouraged to remember J.R.’s happiness, as well as his ambition of becoming a counselor so that he might help others find their happiness. We were cautioned not to lay blame, but to instead pray for the young lady whose life will forever be changed for her part in the accident.
Simple, eloquent words from someone who was clearly hurt very deeply.
People often say that the test of faith is how a person lives their life. I would agree that a walk ought to match the talk. Too often it doesn’t.
But perhaps a better test of faith is how a person handles a death, when words are just no good and the hope displayed by actions say all there is to say.
I believe I just witnessed the real deal.