What I Remember

Today is the first anniversary of the day we lost a friend to leukemia.  Our friend Chuck passed away this day last year, at 8:04 p.m.

Our family has been seemingly surrounded by death in the last year, and just when I think we will get a break from this theme, someone else we know dies or another friend loses a loved one.  I honestly have never thought about death and the afterlife and grief as much as I have in the last year.  I know that it was Chuck's death that started that process, and it is definitely his loss that has impacted me - and shown up in my writing - the most.  I wrote about his death first a year ago, and since I have some vivid memories of that day that I have not yet told from my perspective, I thought about sharing about that in more detail today.  I actually even started writing something along those lines a couple weeks ago, but now my mind has changed and I've deciding to share something else instead.

Chuck's wife, my friend Wendy, has recently started blogging about her family's journey through T-PLL leukemia.  She writes because she wants to remember what happened accurately, she wants to preserve these memories for their young sons, and she wants to remember (and pass along) the lessons learned through these tragic circumstances.   These things are not easy to speak of to friends, never mind share on the internet, and though her blog is new some of what she has already shared is deeply personal and incredibly brave.   I love her courage, and I am proud to be her friend.

So anyway, her blog got me thinking about the power of memories again.  Both positive and negative memories can have a purpose, and while neither should be denied or altered, both carry a power and influence over our emotions that can either serve us or bring us down.  As I was thinking about this last night, I decided that in honor of Chuck's "don't cry for me" spirit, instead of sharing sad memories about how I felt when he died, I'd share one of my favorite memories of him alive.

In October 2010, our church hosted a forum on the existence of God.  This event, held at a local university, featured David Silverman, the president of American Atheists and Dr. Glenn Sunshine, a professor, theologian, and published author.  The two men had an opportunity to present their best case, either for or against the existence of God.  There would be a brief intermission during which time the audience would have an opportunity to write down questions for either man, and after the intermission both men would have a chance to answer the questions through a moderator and defend or articulate their position.

David Silverman, billboard wizard and chief Atheist

Chuck and Wendy came to our forum.  They had had a long day, and Chuck was still living with the effects of chemo, but they came anyway.  They were late, and they missed Dr. Sunshine's presentation but they filed in just in time for David Silverman's attack on God.  As Silverman spoke, I had a hunch from where I was sitting at the back of the room that Chuck wasn't liking what he was hearing.

Intermission came, and my friend Jen and I were in the back of the auditorium with oversized baskets collecting the questions from the audience.  Chuck came up to me with a question, but it wasn't written down.

"I have a question for him," he said, gesturing toward Silverman who was sitting at the front of the room, sipping water and talking with a few of his atheist compatriots.  "I was thinking, maybe I could just go ask him."

It caught me off guard.  We hadn't planned on the speakers interacting with the audience during the intermission, that's what the question cards were for.  Plus, I wasn't sure how Silverman would react, and  I knew that while Chuck had a strong faith in God, he hadn't read all that much of the Bible.  Frankly, I wasn't so sure that any of it was a good idea.

"I'm not sure," I said, trying to dissuade him without sounding completely dismissive.  "Maybe you could just write it down on a card.  If you give it to me, I'll make sure they get it."

He looked at me for a minute.  "Hmmm, okay," he said, and walked away.  I waited a minute or two, but at this point nobody else was really bringing up question cards, so I went out to the lobby to get a drink from my coffee-shop-owning friend Rosemary who had come to do refreshments for our event and chat a bit with the folks by her stand.  It occurred to me a few minutes later that Chuck had never brought me his question written down.

When I went back into the auditorium, I discovered why.  He hadn't written his question down.  He had decided to go down and talk to Silverman himself.

My first thought?  "Oh, no."  Then I had to smile.  The determination of that man.  Unbelievable.  Most people would never do that under the best of circumstances, but there he was.

I have no idea what exactly he was saying to Silverman that elicited that expression, but I sure wish I did.

I never asked Chuck what made him decide to go down and talk to Silverman, but he did it, and I will never forget it.  I will always remember that Chuck, despite his limited biblical knowledge, despite his bald chemo head, despite his long tiring day, despite my attempt at discouraging advice, had decided that he needed to go down and talk to the president of American Atheists himself anyway.   He wanted answers, he had something to say, and he was not going to be dissuaded.

Some may debate the wisdom of him entering into this exchange, but I doubt anyone can debate the stoutness of heart behind it.  It's not the last time that stoutness of heart showed up.  It's hard to not admire that kind of courage.   I'm proud to have been his friend, too.

And that is one of my favorite memories of Chuck.


Wendy said...

You have no idea how mortified I was when he approached that stage! lol!

Jess said...

Yes, I do distinctly remember your *discomfort* with his decision... hehe... Gotta love it!