I was sitting in the lobby at the funeral home watching hundreds of pilgrims come through the front doors to pay their respects. Some were crying, (most especially this wonderful kid who could not stop the tears for the whole hour that he and his family were there), some were sharing stories, some were quiet and somber and some were light-hearted, but all carried the wrap of love around their shoulders for your son.
It was strange that I found myself thinking, “How could all of these people I don’t know, know him! And then I realized that they probably said that of me. I felt that even his closest family members were thinking that. “This never-seen uncle shows up once - and that for his death.” It is curious that I knew Greg for the first eighteen years of his life, well enough to still carry a deep love and respect for him as one of those few people that are sent to teach us about happiness, and they knew him for the second half of his life when they too had the good chance to learn of his great gifts.
When I was a baby, I think I cried when the not-good people on the earth passed by, and I smiled when the good folks picked me up and held me. I have always had a sense the innate goodness and evil in the world. It is one of those things I didn’t have to study to learn and which came in real handy in my teaching career. I could spot-identify them as soon as they walked in my classroom and of the thousands of students and many thousands of people who have passed by in my life, there have been only a right hand full of those that I would put in the category of wholly good. I “spotted” him while still in diapers.
Twice, sometimes three times a year, we would gather as a family for Thanksgiving , Christmas, visitations or meetings of some sort and, although all present were very special to me, there was always Greg with his smile, and his great personality tending to all of us as a ‘some-kind’ saint, brightening up the setting with kindness and a cleanness that was refreshing in my world. He was a genuine and sweet soul - and still is.
Eventually, we all go our separate ways to do our bidding and sometimes we lose touch of those times and special people, but I have always held those events very present in my mind and in my heart. We all do what we can when tragedy comes and we give our dearest possessions. For me, in a different city and separated by decades of Greg doing his own particular bidding, my gift was the absolute best thing I own, my faith and my prayers. I know it is one of those non-tangible things - it is not drinking beer with him as a frat brother, or going to his games, or visiting his kids, but it is what I most value in my life, my greatest treasure. And it was all I had to offer during this troubling time.
At first, I wasn’t sure about the balloon sermon, but the preacher made some good points. My favorite was “Get Well Soon”. Historically, prayer has always been a difficult concept for me (and for theologians). Were we supposed to ask God to heal Greg and change the scientific arrangement of things and natural order of the universe? Were we supposed to ask for Greg to be the only one spared from our ultimate end on this earth? Are we supposed to ask God to only allow people over a certain age or without children to pass on? Or are we are supposed to pray for people to realize the power of Love as they walk in the funeral home door? Maybe we should pray that we realize that we are better, different, more loving, because of his life. I knew that should pray for strengthening of his soul through his suffering. I should pray for strength of his parents and his lovely wife and children to make it through their loneliness and grief. I should pray for people to explore more diligently the eternal struggle to find God as a Comforter. I should pray for people to be more interested in the whole God thing because of God’s seemingly irrational way of dealing with the Greg Luter family. But, in God-sense, the preacher is right, he has been relieved of suffering, he has been healed - but in God’s way - on God terms. In short, all of our prayers were answered - unless we prayed for the wrong thing.
Maybe the pearly gates, the association with harp music, eternal peace, cool clouds, pretty angels, and our whole vision of that kind of heaven is the believers poor attempt to express that we have to explore the possibility that, not knowing what is on the mind of God for us in death, maybe, it is not a bad thing to die. Imagine that! Imagine that I could possibly view it from a selfless angle.
But maybe there will never be any sense for us mortals whose only “sense” is what makes sense to us. I have always had trouble with the concept that God is smarter than me, that God is a beyond me, that God can’t be understood on my terms and that the will of Thomas is not necessarily the will of God. Yet I full well realize that I can fully comprehend only those things than I am greater than.
From a very early age I instinctively knew that life doesn’t end. Having no formal religious training to speak of, I remember going to my first funeral - our grandmothers (or was it granddad?) and realizing with certainty that she could not have possibly have just ceased to exist. I looked at her body and said: “Ok, she is not there”. That made sense, but to think that she wasn’t anywhere, was not a possibility. It happened again at both of our parents funeral and the knowing has become more sure with each successive funeral. It was later I learned that, in the order of things, nothing in the universe ceases, it just changes form. We can accept that as a scientific reality but not as a personal truth.
There is absolutely no way that your Gregory has ceased to exist.
It is always amazing how little time we all spend on the most important aspect of our lives. I think that if we spent just a portion of the time we spend practicing our flutes, playing football, bouncing babies on our knees, or training our dogs, on training our souls, we would be a whole lot closer to the answers. Religious education should take at least as much effort as the education of our minds. Imagine spending twelve years in religion schools, four more years in colleges of religion and then go on and get advanced degrees in religion. Might we then be better equipped to handle the events of the past week-end? We cannot get the complex fingerings on a flute if we just go to the flute just when the baton falls. Maybe I could have had some words of wisdom to return in your e-mails had I studied harder. We all fall short. For that, I sincerely apologize.
On the landscape of our souls, Greg’s changing of form, is undeniably one of the most vivid colors we will ever experience. Hundreds of us were touched by his life and hundreds more were touch by his death. Is that not the most any of us can ask for? We think of power in terms of the negative but there is the overwhelming power of goodness, gentleness, and wisdom as evidenced by the life of my nephew. The eternal struggle goes on. Thanks be to God for for giving us the other side of darkness for these past forty-two years.
I am honored to have known him
and to still know his loving parents.