~ when faith meets finality – a brief tribute to those we have lost ~

Today is Ascension Day. According to Christian beliefs, it marks the thirty ninth day after Easter Sunday and the day upon which a resurrected Jesus ascended into Heaven. But today, for a not too dissimilar reason, is a sombre day for many of the people I know. For today, we lost a friend and warrior who fought a brave battle of will against a body that failed him, right until the end.

I had planned an entirely different way to discuss the concept of introspection and had hoped that an example drawing from fiction would help illustrate the importance of the message I hoped to deliver. But, on hearing and reflecting on this friend’s fight for life, I could not bring myself to starting this book with a story that carried my perceptions of truth and not the truth.

The truth is that I have no idea how we ever begin to reconcile the notion of faith with that of finality. It is what I had hoped my book might achieve. How do we as humans comprehend moving forward with joy, when a life journey comes to conclusion so much more abruptly than we could have imagined? How do we pause and ground our faith when the world around us gives us every reason to doubt its very fabric? I’ve learnt that faith is the assurance of the things we hope for and the certainty of the things we do not see. And yet it’s the finality of life that causes me to wrestle with this same assurance and certainty. So many times I’ve heard of last gasps transformed into first breaths – of faith facing finality and making a fiction of it. But what now, when faith appears to have failed – how then do we find salvation and answers to our prayers, amidst all this suffering?

The truth is that I do not know. It’s the great mystery of this life. What I do know is that this friend, whose battle against all his pain and hardship was finally won today shared so much life – maybe not to me personally, but he spent so much time in my thoughts this week that I cannot have anything but complete admiration for his own faith and bravery, which revives the life in me. And I hope that the words in this dedication pulled from the heart will share the message my mind felt it could not convey.

There are certain people whose existence in our lives we take as a given. Childhood friends, whom we’ve never not known, may become acquaintances in our youth and strangers in adulthood. But in this moment of grief, I remember the last time I saw this friend in the flesh. For someone whose struggle I had played no part in or given so little support to, and, for a friend who had come face to face with the reality of limited time, he took great care to pause and chat as if the world had given him all eternity for that very moment. This kind of generosity is sheer courage and bravery. This kind of generosity is a resilience and defiance against the odds, that strangers notice and are moved by. And I can’t help but think that this friend, with only a shared childhood connecting us, still had all the time in the world for me and he revealed through that small gesture the fullness of what it means to live.

I’m so moved that someone, whose time turned out to be so limited and who so desperately wanted life from a body that wouldn’t grant it to him, could fight the good fight with such strength, conviction and optimism. It’s a strange dichotomy of life that in witnessing suffering we can find such inspiration, but I have.

Maybe from his passing we can all learn to hold to the ones we love just a little tighter, and longer. Maybe we learn to breathe the breaths we draw just a little deeper. Maybe we learn to live out all life’s moments with a little more vigour. Maybe we learn to smile and stand against all the hardship life throws at us. Maybe we embrace life’s simple moments with just a little more enthusiasm. Maybe we take time to look up when we otherwise would have looked down. Maybe it is from all of this mourning, that we discover the joy in our lives that unifies us who remain, even if for a moment. Maybe that’s the victory we glean from death. Maybe, just maybe, knowing that his faith and his will to live was unrelenting, is cause enough for us to confront the finality of our own journeys with a little more faith.

To those we lose along the way we can only hope that they find true peace in their resting. For us who remain, let their journeys serve to remind us to hold to what is important and appreciate what is true. Gone, but never forgotten. Those who never lose hold of their faith, despite what they need navigate, have the greatest heavenly reward. I know this much because it is written. And I know that this kind of faith is what will set you free. Rest in peace. Amen.