Four years ago today, my brother died. After a long battle with bipolar disorder that stole his sanity and severely tested the rest of ours, he committed suicide. This morning, I put up a picture of him on Facebook, being silly with my son:
The picture garnered a silent stream of “likes” throughout the day, and I was oddly comforted by my friends and family’s acknowledgment of his death. Because that’s what those “likes” were to me: an acknowledgment. I know it’s silly, but with just a simple click of the mouse, they said to me, “Yes. That happened.” And there is something in me that doesn’t want others to forget.
Alongside the silent “likes” on Facebook, quiet snowflakes fell outside all day long. I have never experienced anything like the weather today: it snowed and snowed, but nothing stuck. That’s because it was 34 degrees all day. And yet, the big, fat snowflakes kept tumbling down from the gray sky, refusing to turn into rain. They were peaceful and beautiful, and I took their presence as heaven’s acknowledgment of this significant day: Peace and beauty, falling from the sky.
The thing is, today was not a sad day. I wasn’t tearful (for the most part); on the contrary, I was very busy. This morning, I had our church’s first curriculum meeting, where I sat around a table and discussed with several other wonderful people how to best equip our children for the Christian life. On the way home, I stopped by the grocery store. Then, I came home and started working on the house: I mopped, I scrubbed baseboards, I vacuumed, I spot cleaned, I did laundry. You know, all those little things that make it so I can open my house to others and welcome them in. This evening, I attended a benefit to support some friends who are in the process of adopting their third precious child. No…I wasn’t sad.
I was just mindful.
Whenever I think about the fact that my brother is in heaven, I am comforted by the idea that I am going to see him soon. Maybe that sounds morbid, but it’s true. You and I are on this earth no longer than a minute. Our life is a breath. We are the fog that appears in the morning and vanishes. We are the grass that quickly withers.
We are the snowflakes that don’t even stick to the ground. That’s how ephemeral our presence is.
Is it weird that that thought comforts me?
Is it weird that it energizes me?
Sometimes I think, “I AM ALIVE ON THIS EARTH AT THIS MOMENT!” And that thought blows me away. It makes me want to live my little moment to the fullest. It makes me want to live for things that MATTER. It makes me look with disdain on all my petty concerns, like the big world map canvas I want (but can’t afford) for my living room and like the pounds I still want to lose. It makes those little frustrations seem like the pointless distractions that they are. And it makes things like loving my neighbor and serving others and dying to myself seem like they are the only things that matter.
Because they are.
No, the awareness of my mortality doesn’t sadden me; it invigorates me. And that makes sense, I guess. At least, it does to C.S. Lewis, who observed,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
I believe that Lewis is absolutely correct on this point. It’s when I forget that my life is a breath that I get distracted by wall decorations and weight gain and all manner of other meaningless junk. My brother helps me remember that. And so does the Bible.
I’m going to die soon. And so are you. Let’s start living like we understand what that means.