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by David Pettit
On these summer Sundays, I invite you to think about lives and what they have meant. To think not with a pietistic paintbrush, but to read carefully, in between the lines, and to discern how God’s gracious purposes might be present in the midst of life’s mixed realities, remembering that our attempt to speak for others’ stories is in some way an attempt to understand our own.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 38-39
Ed was left-handed and that is how he lived. He was baptized into the waters of Christ’s love and forgiveness in the Reformed Church (for God has never made a distinction between right-handers and left-handers). There, the waters of baptism dripped down Ed’s forehead, like the fingers of God laying claim to him as God’s child, whether Ed knew it or not.
Ed was the oldest of his siblings, but the only left-hander. He was good-natured. Most of the time, he entertained himself. He was polite and respectful. He loved sports, played football, and followed his favorite teams.
Ed could be funny, make the family crack up at the table. He shared a closeness with his brothers. He loved and looked up to his dad, though he didn’t always know how to talk to him. He knew his dad loved him, but he really would have liked to hear him say it.
Ed loved hands-on things like the Boy Scouts and the firehouse. He was quiet in many respects. And it seems he had his own quiet and inward way of dealing with things—things such as his ponderings about life, his fears and disappointments, sadness and guilt, and all those things which have a way of overwhelming the average person. Ed swallowed them. But after a while one can only swallow so much. And in time the bottle became medicine for him, medicine that can only numb; it cannot heal. It is a medicine that in time becomes its own illness.
Ed was a son, and a big brother, and a father, and an uncle. There are many fond memories: brotherly guy-talk, the joy of a mother at his wedding, the birth of grandchildren, Sunday night treats with dad. Despite those positive memories, there is a cloud that hangs. Everyone wanted more for him, perhaps more from him.
The writer of A River Runs Through It, Norman Maclean, said, “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us.”
Today we acknowledge and embrace the reality and mystery of life, and of the Ed’s life. We bless him, even though he eluded us in many ways. We bless him at the end of his life, as he was, even as God blessed him that Easter Sunday in 1957, at the beginning of his life, as he was. We celebrate his life, and we grieve and give into the hands of God the things which might have been different. For it is in God’s hands where Ed is now, where he always has been actually, and where he always will be.
Maclean also writes, referring to his own family: “Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them.” We still reach out to them. You still reach out to Ed. We maintain a connection, just as our Christian liturgies tell us. The living to the dead. We know God holds a more glorious future. So we hold out hope that we will be reunited again someday in the fullness of God’s future, and there the mystery and sadness will be washed away, and the joy of brotherhood and parenthood and childhood will be brought to its fullness.
We give thanks to God today that God claims us as children, even as God has claimed Ed, left-handed and all.
David Pettit is minister of the Reformed Church in America, currently serving as pastor of Calvary Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado, while also pursuing doctoral studies in Hebrew Bible at the University of Denver.