It is always a terrible shock to hear that a friend has died. Death is not good news. Old, young, male, female, black, white, religious, irreligious – death is pretty much never good news.
I heard this week that I had lost a friend – someone with whom I studied as an undergraduate. We both enrolled on a degree course in classical music. We both spent most of our careers playing NOT classical music!
My friend Graham was not someone who I saw every day, every week, or even every month. But he was one of the most solid characters I’ve ever known. The coherence of his life in certain ways would put many Christians to shame. And worse yet, if the facebook tributes are anything to go by, the guy actually made a real and conspicuous difference to other people’s lives! How many of us are actually doing that now?
What are you and I doing to help someone better themselves today? How many of us are reaching out to others? Great or small, will you touch a person’s life today for good?
Will you encourage someone to keep going, even though things are rough?
Will you be the one to say something nice to a person whose confidence has been eroded by certain experiences?
Will you pick up the phone to a friend rather than wait to be called?
If you don’t like certain aspects of yourself, will you wait once again for ‘tomorrow’ to try harder to be a better person? You know the next question: what if tomorrow never comes?
If you can do a good deed for someone today, will you do it today while you are still alive to do it?
There are those who always want to know how a person has died, even if they never knew the person. As someone who has lost one very precious, I have learnt that this is one of the stupidest, saddest, pointless and least human of our social conventions here in Western society. It is not that these things ought not to be discussed – but only by those who actually are going to feel the loss.
I’m going to remember Graham, and the things that he taught me even by his example. He was a far superior musician to myself when we first met. I remember how he was there to support my very first proper gospel choir, and how he saw beyond the elementary harmonies and simple arrangements to recognise that I really did have something serious to offer as a gospel choral director. We taught together in a school for a short period of time. It was a very strange place, and I really didn’t like it. Graham was far more patient than I was with the situation, and at times far more professional than I was. What fazed me then did not faze him. He was the best man for the wedding of one of my best friends – in fact, Graham was the one who introduced us; he invited me to his home, saying “you and my housemate would get along well, I think.” Nearly fifteen years later, Graham continues to be correct on that one!
But life is never straight forward, and Graham had struggles. However, like a true hero, he picked himself up and kept going. We have a saying in African-Caribbean Christianity – we say that “Sister so-and-so has now put down her sword and shield.”
There is a direct theological allusion there that to the best of my knowledge does not apply to Graham. But my reason for invoking this is simple: a fellow warrior has gone to his rest. A guy who did his best to live and love as best he knew how. A guy who may not have adhered to the biblical standard of non-premarital sex but was nonetheless known for his faithfulness and loyalty to his partner – something the girls in our year who knew him were in the habit of referring to every so often. His sexual ethics would put many a Christian in the same generation to shame! He may not have been a Christian, and I cannot indulge sentiment for bad theology and say that he is in heaven when that is not what the Bible teaches. And some may dislike me for saying this. But from what I can see, he lived the best he knew.
Two texts before I close out this post:
Proverbs 23: 7 – King James Version (KJV)
7For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:
What are the thoughts in your heart today? Are they taking you towards where you want to be?
And the second text:
Micah 6:8 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)
8The LORD God has told us
what is right
and what he demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.”
Graham may not have known what it meant to obey God. Only God knows. From what I saw, Graham was closer to the rest of that text than many Bible-believing Christians that I know. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. How will you choose to live today?