I’m still moved by the story “Tara” told. A beautiful young woman full of an infectious bouncing joy that helps her glide rather than walk. Normally beaming with a face-wide smile, she was, for Tara, sedate. The story began optimistically. She relayed to us a conversation she had with a student the previous Friday afternoon. It was the first open conversation she’d been able to have with this student, who had taken her class before but hadn’t often shown up. This semester had been different. He made some effort, took interest in the subject, and began to build relationships.
The two of them sat working on a project together. As their hands molded materials and fashioned art, their words flowed effortlessly. He began to talk about his philosophy of life: “Live fast, die young.” Or was it “die hard.” Patiently, Tara asked why he took that view. As they talked, she began to hold out the hope of the gospel. For the first time, he seemed genuinely interested. In fact, he seemed hopeful. So Tara invited him to church with her the following Sunday.
Saturday evening she called to arrange time to pick him up. As she told the story, her face dimmed from its usual glow. If a light gray cloud could fill a face, I suppose that’s what it looked like. She explained that when she called to arrange for her student to come to church with her that Sunday, his mother informed her that he wouldn’t be going. Between Friday afternoon and Saturday night, the young man’s father had been gunned down in a barber shop. The family was distraught.
We sat stunned at the turn of events. And we prayed as a congregation for the student, his family, and Tara.
Several days later, I drove friends around the neighborhood, showing them the historical sites, giving them other landmarks so they might know their way around. I mentioned that one turn was near the barber shop where the student’s father was killed. My passenger said, “No. That’s a different shooting at a different barber shop.” We chuckled uncomfortably, aware of the absurdity.
Sunday night my mother called. She’d called a couple times which signals one of two things. Either I’ve been a bad son and I’ve not called recently enough, or something has happened back home that I should know about. I was guessing “bad son” because, to my shame, I hadn’t called in some time. I’ve come to recognize certain moods in my mom’s voice. Sunday night her voice carried that sound… the one where she tries to sound upbeat but she’s speaking too clearly and directly for it not to be serious. When I hear that voice I know the bad news isn’t long in coming.
Sure enough, she finished the pleasantries and said, “It’s bad news.” She continued, “Do you know Raunchy, the police officer? That’s your cousin, you know.” I vaguely remembered and confessed it’d been some years since I’d heard the name. “Well,” she said, “do you remember his son? Lil’ Ronnie?” I confessed that Raunchy’s son was an even fainter memory than that of his father. Undaunted, she asked, “Do you remember Marvin?”
Now she had a name I recognized. Marvin was one of my best friends from middle and high school. I can’t remember when I first met him, but we were friends from that instant. As a new kid to the neighborhood he became known for a little “Eddie Munster” peak growing down the middle of his forehead. We teased him, but it didn’t bother him one bit.
We rode our bikes together all over the city. He had one of the first mountain bikes I’d ever seen and could ride a wheelie on it as long as he wanted, up hills, around corners, everywhere. When we weren’t riding our bikes we were playing sports together. When we began to drive, we drove together. When we began to date, we often liked the same girls. Marvin introduced me to pool. Soon I got as good as he was and we argued non-stop about who was better. Marvin was quick to laugh, loud in conversation, and able to irritate you without making you angry. He thought he was so cool. In a way he was. He was confident. Nothing seemed to dent his appreciation for himself. I guess you could call that proud, but not in that superior-condescending way. He was simply himself and okay with that, even pleased.
I sometimes slept over at his family’s house and he at mine. He could walk into our house without knocking. When my dad left when I was 13, his father, Tinelli, adopted me as my own. He’d often tell people I was his son without explanation or hesitation. Lessons Tinelli gave his son he also gave me. We were family.
My mom delivered her news: “Well… lil’ Ronnie was in the barber shop getting his hair cut. Marvin pulled up outside and was talking with Flippo. When Ronnie saw Marvin outside he got out of the chair, went outside, and shot him in the head and killed him. Nobody knows why. They say Ronnie has been ‘going off’ lately. Other people say Marvin did something to him. We don’t know….”
This post has three points:
1. I am full of grief.
2. I am so tired of guns.
3. I want Jesus to come quickly.
Grief and hope may and must coexist if we are to avoid despair. As Christians we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13ff). We dare not. And we wonder how those who know not Christ keep from being overwhelmed be grief. I don’t know. I do know that grief in this world can be so present that the hope of the next world seems insufficient. I almost feel that way now. But Jesus keeps me, and I cry, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”