In university, I read many books considered classics in French literature. One of them was Albert Camus’ existential novella, L’Etranger (The Stranger). The work begins dramatically with a profound announcement delivered by the main character, “Aujourd’hui, Maman est morte” (or in English, “Mom died today”). Camus’ main character, Meursault, shows no sadness or emotion over his mother’s death throughout the rest of the story. The theme Camus chooses to explore focuses on the fact that death is inescapable for all of mankind, and he draws the conclusion that human life is meaningless.
College is about exploring ideas that are different than our own, right?
Inarguably, L’Etranger is a great work of fiction that reveals the author’s philosophical leanings and the depth of despair of the human condition in the face of an inescapable death. It is critical at any age, however, to remember just that: this novella is a work of fiction. It is not truth, and there is hope.
A Season of Grief
In less than a year, both of my beloved parents have passed into eternity; Dad just a few weeks ago, and the one year anniversary of Mom’s passing is in a few weeks. In heaven, they rejoin some much-loved family members, mentors and friends who passed in 2020. While experience teaches us death is part of life, our hearts break and we grieve and weep, just as Jesus wept (John 11:35, Luke 19:41, Hebrews 5:7-9). The fact that Jesus wept brings me great comfort because while things are not the way they were designed to be, I have a Lord and Savior who has made a way for salvation for those who choose to believe Jesus is who he said he is, even as he draws near to me during this season.
It’s difficult to articulate the depth of loss I am feeling, especially with milestone events like birthdays, the holidays approaching and the looming presence of empty chairs at the table. I am fairly certain that many of you understand this kind of pain.
It’s also a little odd realizing that I am now part of the eldest generation in my biological family. This is a role I have aged into simply by God’s grace. With the passing into glory of one of my brothers nearly six years ago and a few friends and peers since, I am painfully aware that not everyone attains this role in this life.
To help me to keep things light, I have a coffee mug given to me by a dear friend a few years back that proclaims, “coffee because adulting is hard.” I am whimpering a little as I write this because mine now needs to be decaf (sigh). Lord, please give me strength. Is decaf really even coffee?
They have left very big shoes to fill, but in your grace and your strength, Lord, I can try.
I am grateful for every precious conversation I have had with these loved ones and for every opportunity we had to spend time together, sometimes simply goofing off and doing nothing, especially in their later years. I am grateful for their lives and for the influence each has had on us. I see Dad when his great grandson takes on a woodworking project purely for the enjoyment of it; it is a hobby my Dad cultivated and passed on to his sons. Mom taught us how to overcome adversity, a lesson she learned the hard way as a child and into young adulthood. I see her in my niece’s no-nonsense, take-charge attitude when things get tough. I can also hear our dear Bea’s voice saying to my dad, “it’s good enough” when the negative side of perfectionism puts my internal editor into overdrive. And I think of time spent with my stepfather during my seminary studies, talking about Jesus and the truth and historicity of the gospel accounts. I marvel at the patience he showed me in providing an opportunity to sharpen my debating skills even as he wrestled with cancer. I see this same patience and generosity of self in his son and daughter as they work to tirelessly care for family members. These defining moments shape our character and determine what others remember about us.
So, Mr. Camus, I am afraid I am going to need to respectfully disagree with your assessment. These lives, while remarkably ordinary, did have meaning, especially to those of us who knew them. They left an imprint on our hearts and characters. Their lives mattered because God says human life matters. We miss them now and look forward to the day we will be reunited. Until then, we will cherish their memories as we mourn.
As I read through my devotions the day after Dad passed, a verse in 2 Thessalonians spoke powerfully to me as I read through it: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, NLT).
Thank you, Lord, for providing a dad who so faithfully loved me and gave me glimpses of you, my Heavenly Father. Thank you for the gift of a mom who taught me some of the more challenging lessons of forgiving others, and for the Bible she gave me that I still read today. Thank you also for your provision of Alex and Bea, who welcomed me into their homes and their hearts.
Until we meet again.