Just a few days ago I marked the one year anniversary of the passing of one of my best friends, Ken. Now when I say “one of my best friends,” understand what I mean: there are friends with which you share work spaces, classes, neighborhoods, or interests; and then there are friends that share in getting in trouble. You know the ones I’m talking about: the ones who sit in the principal’s office with you trading sheepish looks… or in our case, sit in the general manager or owner’s office cutting our eyes over at each other, wondering what we would do on our “next” job. Ken was one of those friends. You see, we had started working in the automobile business on the same day and had worked together the greater part of the thirteen years I spent in that noble profession. On the outside, we couldn’t have looked much more different. Ken was a tremendous athlete who had been an All-American running back in college; my athletic prowess had been measured by wins and losses on the outdoor basketball court at the East Ridge Town Hall. Ken was insanely strong, often stopping off at the train station on the way to work to lift box cars and locomotive engines; I was also insanely strong… often stopping off at the breakfast bar at Shoney’s or the drive-thru at Bojangles to lift plates of food that were piled inhumanly high; yet while we differed in many ways, even down to our ethnicities, the same heart beat within both of us – the heart of a rebel. Whether collectively or separately, we both generally ran afoul of every authority figure we encountered. It wasn’t that we were bad guys; we just followed the teachings of that role model, John Cougar Mellencamp, who said, “I fought the law and the law won.” This was the type of friendship I lost that day: one that was hardened in the kilns of adversity and resistance to authority, and one in which we had both proven we would stand by the other, come what may. I guess we were truly “birds of a feather” (which leads me to my point… there is a point here – really).
I was given the great honor of delivering the eulogy at Ken’s funeral, so, on the morning of his funeral I was sitting in my home office trying to process my own emotions and wondering how I could possibly do justice to one of the most respected and deserving men I had ever known. As I typed out a few thoughts, I kept hearing some sort of knocking sound out in the hallway. When I finally couldn’t take any more, I walked out into the hallway to bludgeon whatever was making that infernal racket. At the end of the hall are two glass doors which open onto the world’s smallest deck, which is on the second floor of our house. There, a bird pecked at the window. As I watched, he (or she – not really an expert on bird gender) would peck a few times at the glass and then would back up and fly full speed into it. The fearless fowl would then shake his head to clear the birdies singing in it (really?) and start to peck at the glass again. This had gone on for at least an hour at this point, and seemed destined to continue until bird or glass surrendered. My first thought was: this crazy bird doesn’t understand glass at all. He can tell that there is something beyond this window, but he isn’t sure exactly what it is and can’t seem to get to it to find out.
Then a verse Paul wrote came to my mind: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) I realized that I was just like that wacky bird. While I walk around in a world I can see, deep inside of me there exists the awareness that there is more; an inherent sense that life doesn’t end at the moment of death, it merely transitions. Solomon, possibly the wisest man who ever lived, felt this same conundrum. In Ecclesiastes 3, he wrote, “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” There are some days that I peck at that “dark glass” that Paul mentions which separates me from what is beyond, and there are other days that I slam head-long into that window… like the day I lost my dear friend. Those are the days that I just keep knocking on it, attacking it, looking for any way to get beyond that barrier.
Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us totally in the dark on the subject. First Corinthians 15 sheds a great amount of light. In fact, verse 42 tells us, “That’s how it will be when our bodies are raised to life. These bodies will die, but the bodies that are raised will live forever. These ugly and weak bodies will become beautiful and strong. As surely as there are physical bodies, there are spiritual bodies. And our physical bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies.” The day of Ken’s funeral, I was on the other side of the window from the bird and knew what lay beyond the glass. I could understand what my feathered friend couldn’t; I had… perspective. One day we will pass beyond the barrier and have a correct perspective on the questions that confound us right now: infant mortality, HIV epidemics among innocents, wars and genocide, and yes… why the good seem to sometimes die young. In fact, from the eternal side of the window, we may very well see passing on as the greatest gift a loving God could give us. We may see that earthly healing just prolonged our exposure to sadness, sickness, and stress… three big S-words that don’t live on the other side of the glass. In the meantime, though, our perspective here could use a bit of adjusting. In verse 19 of that same chapter in Corinthians, Paul writes, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” What he is saying, in bird vernacular, is: begin to live for what lies beyond the glass. It’ll save a lot of headaches.
Dedicated to my dear friend and brother, Ken Adair (7/26/57 – 4/8/10)