They’d come over weeknights to shoot baskets in the driveway with my older brother Stu, and I’d just happen to be at the kitchen table wracking my brains over math homework, which I would gladly pause when one of them would burst in, hot and sweaty, grab a glass of water, and sit across from me. Stu must have had unusual stamina, because he kept playing while they alternated. Or maybe God miraculously sustained him so I could learn the precious lesson of unrequited love.
If I had to choose one or the other—which was hard—it would have been Jim. A friend already had a crush on Tom, and, well, Jim had an edge. Unfortunately, he also had a crush. Debbie London, a girl his age and much more of a woman than my 7th grade self, had captured his heart long before. As a result, our conversations consisted of me giving the man of my dreams counsel about how to win the woman of his dreams. Ironically, my dopamine, estrogen and adrenaline levels stayed elevated enough to float me above the horror of the situation. How could I mourn the hopelessness of my chances while gazing into soft, brown, intelligent eyes? How could I feel the sting of love lost while he at least valued my counsel? I settled for being his therapist, even if it doomed me to a category from which I could never escape. Oh, the sacrifices we make for love . . .
Life marched on, transitioning all of us to a huge sea of 2500 students at Nicolet High School. Basketball nights stopped; the most attention I got from Jim was a respectful nod of recognition as he towered over his clique and I peered out from mine. I barely heard he’d fallen ill with cancer of the eye, but noticed the patch when he returned from surgery. All of us expected a complete recovery, of course, but Jim soon disappeared again, this time swept away by the relapse that took his young life.
The Jews in Milwaukee owned the beer pavilions; I don’t recall which pavilion hosted the memorial service, but I wondered if it belonged to his family. I remember the service as quiet and constrained. Afterward a thick swath of people, many of them Nicolet students, spilled down to the burial site on foot, reminiscent of Israel walking the desert in mournful silence.
They’d dug the grave already—brown-black dirt neatly piled beside a square perfectly cut in the lush green turf, cordoned off lest someone tumble in. We huddled around, his best friends in the row closest to the grave. I recall the blonde twins, Sue and Diane Parker, green-eyed Brooke Goodman, my brother and a handful of others. The hearse backed up to the grave as a huge crane drew out its massive contents—an elegant black casket we knew contained Jim—and hovered for a time, positioning, to finally slowly lower it into the hole. Our breath caught in our throats as we came face to face with life, death and everything in between. Jim’s body, so recently animated and alive, lay still and decomposing in that box; we strained to wrap our minds around it. Suddenly the crane, unable to fit fully into the hole, released the casket. The denial-shattering thud felt like a fist to the chest. Sue and Diane Harper burst into wails, setting the entire crowd on fire with audible grief.
This experience brought me face to face with the truth that this life alone can’t contain the love God has given us for one another. Our capacity for love overshadows our brief existence like the mournful wail of a loon seems incongruous with its tiny brown body. That day by the graveside, the wail of a thousand high school students began the process of waking me from my apathy to eternal things. Only a few years later I met Jesus, who answered all my aching questions about life, death, and eternal love. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, NIV).
I have hope now. It’s in Jesus.
Jennifer jill Schwirzer writes from Orlando, Florida.© 2002 - 2020, AnswersForMe.org. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.