My cousin Bobby was a fireman for almost twenty years when he lost his life fighting a house fire on November 23, 2008. Since his death, family and friends have annually held a toy drive for children of the burn center where he had been treated after a previous job-related injury.
The website for this year’s drive, which is going on now, includes two videos, one of pictures of Bobby through the years (which was both sweet and painful for me to watch) and the second of which scrolled through a journal Bobby was required to keep in one of his 8th grade classes.
On June 2 of that 8th grade year, at the age of about 13, Bobby wrote an entry in his journal titled Life and Death! The post begins on a note I suspect resonates for most of us, whether or not we articulate it.
I’ll tell you right now, I don’t plan on dying for another seventy years.
Intellectually, we know we can die any time, but that’s not how we live our lives. We live with an expectation that we can plan for things that will happen next year….when we retire…when our children have children, etc. We don’t plan on dying – and we certainly do not plan on dying young.
Bobby went on to say
I would like to live to be about eighty or eighty-five. A lot of people would rather be dead than alive. I think that they are damn fools… Life is the most precious gift God ever made, and it should not be taken advantage of.
Bobby knew then – and continued to know as he grew to adulthood that life is precious. That it is a gift from God. And he lived that way.
The next line was chilling to me – Bobby’s hope for how he would die.
When I die, I would like to die in my sleep, because it is painless and peaceful.
Bobby didn’t die in his sleep. He was killed when an attic ceiling collapsed on him as he was fighting a house fire, knocking off his helmet and air mask. I’d like to think his death was painless, but it is hard for to me to imagine that possibility given the circumstances. In any event, it certainly wasn’t peaceful.
Even at that young age, Bobby understood that his hope was only just that – a hope. His next journal line reads
But, then again, I can’t control when or how I die.
An important realization, but one we have trouble acknowledging.
How did that lack of control make him feel? The final line – the last thing he felt he needed to add to his journal entry – gives all the answer that is needed. I read it and simultaneously smiled and cried:
There is one other thing too, I am not afraid to die.
The words of an 8th grader. How deep was his theological understanding of resurrection of the dead when he wrote those lines? I don’t know. But I hope as he grew he continued to know that the God who gifted him with life would also be there holding him when he died.
“I am not afraid to die.” May we all have the security of God’s boundless and eternal love, the security that allows us to face death without fear.