This Perspective Helps You Live

Stories of death have been haunting me lately, helping me view the world, better.

This week I read two posts about people I know who lost loved ones, not to the pandemic, but tragically nonetheless. One lost a young wife, and the other, a baby who was stillborn.

And while my eyes pored over the words filled with loss, there was a pressure on my chest, and a sorrow that filled me, the same feelings I felt when my father passed when I was a boy.

Death feels wrong. No matter how many times people say, “It’s a part of life,” death feels faulty, like looking through a distorted lens leaving everything misshaped. Some say it’s “natural,” but I think it’s the most unnatural thing there is in nature. It always leaves a void, a wound. It feels like a gaping hole in one’s heart. It’s an end that feels like it never ends and where new beginnings cease to be. Of course, that wound will heal, some, but it never fully mends. It will ache. It always will.

But just because death is wrong doesn’t mean that right things can’t result from it. For example, the pandemic is terrible, but it has brought out incredible courage and sacrifice from people, especially those on the frontlines. No one would say that the virus is good. But nonetheless, good can result from it. A gift can still be given even in the bleakest of times, from the worst of events.

For many of us, death also gives us something good. It’s perspective. It’s a mindset given to us, who are left behind, that will go before us for the rest of our lives. It reminds us that there is so much to lose, more than money, possessions, investments, homes. We lose connection, the very thing we all really want the most, the relationship with a wife that didn’t get as many days as she should have, or to hold the crying baby who shouldn’t have died before birth.

There’s a clarity in death that no other event we experience can provide. We see so clearly that life is fragile. We are fragile, mere mortals, who can return to dust again so easily. We can see the treasure we have in time. Yes, it’s finite—and there’s nothing like death to make us realize our finitude—but that fuels the urgency to live fully, making the best of the minutes, hours, days, we’ve been allotted. So we enjoy the present, basking in each moment. Through death, we see life more clearly.

Gratitude, eventually, somehow flows more naturally after a loved one dies. When death takes what feels like everything away from you, the people who remain seem all the more precious. Your life does, too. You see it as you ought—as a gift. Each day, each waking moment, each memory are all gifts to you, to me, to us.

For those who have been humbled, you will understand that you do not have as much control as you want. You are not on the throne. Knowing that, you are able to release that ultimate direction to another, freeing yourself from the burden of trying to reign a land that is beyond your power. For your crown is not big enough to rule life. And in that understanding, you find it strangely freeing.

If you have faith, you will remember that the Son of God wept over death and He Himself suffered a bloody end. He was torn from His earthly mother and Heavenly Father. He knows the powerful grip of Death and how its boney fingers take without care. And yet He rose from the grave, defeating Death by death. And because He knows its sting, He comforts us who suffer at its hand.

My hope is that, even in the heaviness of these words, you find comfort, that you can fly on it’s wings and feel the dawn breaking around you, presenting a fresh new day before your eyes. I also hope that you see the glory of life and that there is much to be grateful for at this moment. And even if you feel an ache right now, I hope you can, even if it’s just for a mere moment, know the goodness of today.

Death does haunt the living, but it can never hold down Life.


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How you can be a good friend when life sucks

Being a good friend isn’t easy, but it’s simple: Just show up.

Last week I went to a funeral for my good friend’s dad. And I’ll be honest there was a part of me that wanted to run, shy away, draw back.

I’m an introvert (maybe you can relate).

Then, there are no guidelines, clear protocols, understandings of how to conduct yourself when you go to a funeral for a friend’s parent.

So I endeavored to do what I could. The moment my plane landed, I texted my friend announcing my arrival. He asked if I wanted to come over to his mom’s. I said yes, of course.

When I got there, I greeted his sister, mom, kids, wife, and of course, him. Some conversation was made. But mostly I sat, and was just there.

Then he and I went out to eat with a couple of his kids, and we talked about all kinds of things: friends, him, me, us, family. And we inevitably talked about death and his dad. It wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t perfect. But it was rich.

After we dropped off his kids, we went out to get a cup of coffee and talk and spend some more time together. We reminisced and shared stories.

I told one about how I almost peed my pants while filming a video for a client in the middle of some random neighborhood in East St. Louis while the client was there, and how I was looking for a bush to go in and then had a brilliant idea to go to a complete stranger’s house and knock on their door to ask if I could use their bathroom. To make matters worse, it was around 630am. And somehow I talked my way into that complete stranger’s house in East St. Louis and used their bathroom, and I thanked God that I didn’t pee my pants in front of our client. He laughed; I laughed; we laughed. Then he shared his own stories, and I almost peed my pants (metaphorically) again. At one point we were crying from laughing so hard at some of our stories, mostly his, my belly hurt. It was magical.

It’s weird how much you need to laugh when there’s so much pain surrounding you, in you. Laughing heals.

Eventually, we made it back to his mom’s place, and I went back in even though I had no idea what to do. I didn’t want to intrude or be a nuisance, but I also wanted to be near and supportive.

They were just moving around as they normally would, and I said that if they needed me to leave that I would. They said, “No, no, you’re fine,” but my insecurities made me feel unfine. After spending some time with all of them, I decided to leave.

The visitation was in a couple of hours, and I still needed to change clothes since I doubted my hoodie, albeit black, would be appropriate garb for the occasion.

After changing, I went to the visitation, said hello, hugged folks, made some conversation, paid my respects, reflected on the deceased, life, my life, death, my death, and moved on. I didn’t leave though. I sat in a wing backed chair, waited, watched, pondered, and prayed. An hour passed and I saw that I wasn’t needed, so I left.

And I thought about what I was feeling and what it meant to be a good friend in a time like this and how awkward I felt and sounded. But I kept on thinking about a conversation I had with my son when he asked me why I was leaving to go out of town again.

I explained to him that friendship is mostly just about “showing up, just being there, that’s often all that matters.” When I said it, I don’t think I knew how true it was.

To be honest, I felt like a dolt much of the time. But I resolved to be present. I didn’t need to talk, say the right thing, in fact, I probably said something stupid; but I was there. And it was all driven by love.

“Love covers over a multitude of sins,” the Bible says. That was very true for me.

No matter how doltish I felt or acted, I still seemed to get the feeling across that all I wanted to do was love. And it was received and welcomed.

When I was younger, another one of my best friend’s dad died, and I didn’t go to his funeral. It was one of the great regrets of my life.

I don’t exactly know why I didn’t. At the time, I would have said something about it being out of town and that I was just there a couple of weeks ago. But that’s lame. I was lame.

I think I was just afraid. I didn’t want to feel unwanted or like an idiot or be doltish. Instead, I acted like a fool and failed as a friend.

This time I wouldn’t.

You see, friendship isn’t about being perfect. It’s more often than not about being present, “just being there, showing up.” It’s about telling embarrassing stories about yourself so your friend can laugh. It’s about being willing to make yourself uncomfortable and just love.

Even if you’re an introvert, insecure, unsure, a dolt (like me), just show up. And magic will happen.

Anyone can be a great friend.

You can, too.

Reflections from a funeral

Funerals aren’t just about death; they’re also about life. And this past week, while at my friend’s dad’s funeral, I could see that he lived richly, and he knew it.

I don’t mean that he drove a Maserati, had a big house, or had some huge title. He didn’t. He was normal, just a regular Joe. Yet, to me, he was extraordinary.

His family loved him. Not in a surface-y love kind of way, where they covered up all the warts and talked only about the beautiful stuff for show. They knew his weaknesses well and talked about them but loved him despite them. It was genuine.

When his kids eulogized him, they shared how much he loved to laugh and make others do the same, and if he hurt someone, he was quick to apologize. He was vulnerable. He didn’t hide his flaws. He opened himself up to his children and allowed them to see him, as he was, broken, yet glorious and true.

That, to me, is extraordinary. To have your children not just love you but honor you for who you actually were would be one of the greatest rewards in life. It says you put your priorities aright. You poured your life into your children. You spent time with them and nurtured them, telling them stories, sharing what it means to be a good person, love God, be a good neighbor, countryman, parent.

One of the most moving moments of the funeral for me was the burial service. He was in the Air Force, and joining had a profound impact on him. So he chose to be buried in Jefferson Barracks, a National cemetery. He wanted the ceremony, the guards of honor, the salutes, the unified rifle shots, the flag. After the flag was folded, with such pomp, it was presented with deep sincerity by a person in uniform to his wife, thanking her for her husband’s “honorable service.”

The family cried. I cried. Others cried.

And through all of this, I could not help but reflect on my own funeral. What will my children say about me? Will they love and honor me? But that burial service marked me.

I won’t get a gun salute since I’ve never been in the military. But the words “honorable service” still rang in my ears, my heart, my soul. I wondered if I will be distinguished as a person who served honorably. And as I pondered, my mind kept drawing me towards my family.

As I am fathering these days, I’m keenly aware of my deficiencies, lacks. And I lack much. I’m far from being a perfect father. But I do want my children to know, despite my deep flaws, my severe impatience, and general stupidity, that I love them, deeply.

And at the end of life, will I sweat the money that I made or didn’t make, that deal that would have changed my lifestyle, the business I wanted to start or build? I doubt it. I would wonder if I was a good husband, father, son, brother, friend. I’d want to know that I was faithful, true, dependable, loving, as my friend’s dad was.

One last story about him. He was asked to become an elder, which is basically the senior leadership or board, in an important church in his city. And at this church, they saw eldership as the pinnacle of importance. But, he turned it down. He would rather be a deacon, which was seen as the lesser office that served the poor and needy so that he could serve. He didn’t need elevation nor the title to make himself feel important. Instead, he wanted to do important work. He just wanted to provide honorable service. He knew that was worth far more than a title.

We all need to remember that we will have a funeral. It will be us resting in that casket someday, whether we like it or not. And what is talked about isn’t the death so much as your life.

My friend’s dad did have a rich life, legacy. He did because he made decisions like becoming a deacon (not that being an elder is wrong for the right reasons), living simply, loving vulnerably, prioritizing his time well; he invested in his children. And he reaped a great reward.

Now, the question is, How do you want people to remember you and are you living in such a way as to bring that about now, always?

Answer that question well, and, as you close your eyes for the last time, you can also know you had a rich life.

Live well

I’m not an NBA fan; I don’t watch any games, turn on ESPN, follow any players, but the news about Kobe Bryant and his daughter punched me in the heart.

Famous people dying is in the media all of the time. It’s sad, and we can feel some sadness. But often we move on.

The news about Kobe should have done the same for me.

But it didn’t.

It hit me. It lingered. I felt it kick me in the heart, like a full backswing and put-your-body-into-it kind of kick. It was like I lost someone I knew. I was surprised.

Minutes before I saw the news, I indulged myself at a ramen joint I wanted to try out. It didn’t disappoint. Day-long simmering broth, perfectly cooked noodles, and pork-belly sloshed around my belly as I wobbled out the door. It was bliss.

While commuting back home on subway, I opened Instagram and saw a post from Gary Vaynerchuck paying his respects to Kobe as if he died.

And I was like, “Wait, what the?!” It knocked some wind out of me and I found it hard to breathe. I was in disbelief that Kobe could be anywhere near dead. “Not Kobe, too!” I thought.

Quickly I snapped a browser open and started googling and saw the news: “Kobe and his daughter die in helicopter crash, no surviors.”

The happy buzz I had from that heavenly meal started to feel a touch hellish as my stomach churned when I continued to click and scroll, click and scroll, burying myself in the story.

And somehow there were more flashes of memories about this man that I never met, followed, or even cared much about. There I was on the 7 train heading back into Manhattan, moved, caring.

Why was I so emotional?

Maybe it was the tragedy of a great player who died at such a young age with his daughter in tow who had barely even begun living. Maybe it was those Nike ads that talked about his work habit, his mindset, his tenacity, his audaciousness. Maybe it was the fact that two of my friends’ parents died in the same week as Kobe.

There was just too much death swirling around me. One of my friends found out that her mom died abruptly, and my other friend’s father had a long slog with cancer.

And all of that made me think about my father’s death and the fact that we all die. It was overwhelming.

Then, Kobe happened.

I was overwhelmed.

I stopped and reflected on all of this and saw things more clearly.

Even if I wasn’t a fan of the sport, I was a fan of this sportsman.

I just respected him.

I respected the way he carried himself even when people hated him, even when he was getting punished by the media, even when he really screwed up. He had class. He was a winner, even when he lost.

And after losing basketball, he lived his life.

Living life—that’s what I’ve resolved to do. I was spending too much time worrying about death.

We should think about it though. Our mortality is a teacher as the ancients and sages teach.

My father’s death has taught me much: not to take life for granted, not to assume tomorrow is ours, humility (I’m always working on that one), every day is a gift.

Death also forces us to really look at how we live. It makes us want to do better, seek truth, not put up with too much BS, take chances, feel alive.

But worrying about death is dumb.

No one knows when their time will come. So it’s useless to fret about what we can’t do anything about.

What we can do is live as well as we can today. We can love those around us, hug them, encourage them. We can love ourselves.

We can mourn those who’ve passed, remember them, celebrate them, tell their stories.

We can be thankful for what we have, find true meaning, grow.

Sadly, death is inevitable.

But living well is a choice.


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