[title taken from “Dirge without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay]
My friend Jeff is in the US Army. Today he wrote about life, and now I’m thinking about it so hard that when I met with our director to talk about the HOPE61 informational packet, I couldn’t believe how trivial it seemed. Not Jeff’s note. The informational packet – but it’s not trivial. It’s vital to our ministries. And last week I was watching Downton Abbey (I’m new to it so I’m still obsessed) and had to leave the episode to go to work in the café. I couldn’t believe how trivial work seemed. My mind actually said, “This [Downton Abbey] is so much more important!”
I’m not really saying which thing is important and which isn’t. I’m talking about one thing grabbing your attention and making you think about other things…not to compare a friend’s insightful note on life to a TV show, but both of those things made me think deeper. So I have something to say.
My friend died. Just before my junior year of college, my friend Dan was away for the summer, training. He was in ROTC and he was best friends with another awesome person, Marc. They were brothers at heart. Dan’s dad had died a few years before. Dan loved God. He loved being in the ROTC and was planning to serve in the US Army after college. He was the most joyful person I’ve known. He wanted to love a girl and have her love him too. He loved the Middle East and he loved Muslims with a pure, holy love that saw them as his family, and he wanted them to know the love of Jesus Christ. Dan spent a semester in Egypt one year. The first time I saw him when he came back was during an art sale in the campus center. Others in our friend-group were there, and without even thinking about it – I hadn’t known he was coming back yet – I ran over and got a big hug. (Despite the fact that we were surrounded by handmade ceramics…that could’ve been disastrous…)
One winter weekend a bunch of us went to Marc’s family’s lake house in a sweet little town. Before watching a James Bond movie, some were upstairs looking at the stars, some were on the porch talking, and Dan and I were right inside in the living room. We talked for a long time, and he talked about his dad and his past relationships, and I talked too. Then he said, with seriousness, one of the best things anyone will ever say to me: “The more I get to know you, the more you remind me of my sister.” If you knew Dan, you know why this is so wonderful. Dan loved his sister more than I can say. He thought the world of her, and of his mom.
That summer he died, I had been planning to call him for his perspective on the Middle East, for an essay I was writing. Just a week before that, I was going to call him. Just a week. Then I knew he was out doing some intensive training and wouldn’t be able to call. I was going to talk to him after the training. He died during the training.
The last time I spoke with Dan, we were in the campus center. It was nearly summer. He was excited to have one more year of college. I shyly told him about the relationship I was in. It was with a boy Dan knew, and Dan was pleasantly surprised. He had hopes about a girl he liked. He was wearing his camo. (I don’t know the proper name.) We hugged good-bye and expected to talk maybe once that summer and see each other in the fall.
Then one day I woke up feeling out of it. I knew when I woke up something would happen. It was not a doomed feeling. But I felt disconnected from the rest of what was happening around me, thinking of something I didn’t know about yet. Then that afternoon someone on Facebook said something about a Dan.
I wrote to her, saying, “Oh of course this is silly, but just feel like I should ask. It isn’t the Dan I know, right?” My best friend, Liz, and I were just about to work out together before heading to her house for the weekend, planning her wedding.
My friend on Facebook wrote back saying something like, “I’m so sorry. It is the Dan you know. I thought of you when I heard. I’m so sorry. Be strong, OK? Love you.”
I wrote something back but I tried not to believe her. My best friend and I exercised and went to the library for something. I called Marc. He sounded absentmindedly cheerful. “Oh hey Emily! How are you?”
“Hey Marc. Umm, I just have to ask you something. I heard something about Dan on Facebook…I know this is silly, but he’s OK, right?”
Marc broke my heart. He started weeping and told me no, Dan wasn’t OK.
My best friend took good care of me that weekend and I didn’t cry until I was at home, alone, watching Father of the Bride 1 & 2. I called Marc. It was bad timing – Marc was at a family party.
“I’m so sorry I’m calling you at a bad time,” I sobbed.
Marc sounded strong but shaky. “It’s OK. I’m sorry, I can’t talk now. I’ll call you later OK?”
“OK.” I blubbered. “I just feel so bad…”
“I know… I will call you later, OK? We just have to be strong right now. Dan is in Heaven, and we will honor him with the way we live. OK?”
When we got back to school there was a memorial service I don’t want to write about because I don’t want to cry in the middle of the office. But we shared what he meant to us. Dan’s mom was there. (Mrs. Miller, I still pray for you.) Everyone knew Dan by his big smile and big heart, and there were many good things said by those in ROTC with him at St. Bonaventure, and those of us who knew him at Houghton.
I don’t know why Jeff’s note made me think of all this. Maybe because Jeff is in the Army, or because Dan’s been on my mind lately. Maybe because this isn’t the first time I’ve thought Jeff and Dan remind me of each other & maybe they could’ve been friends. (Jeff I know from high school & Dan from college.) I’m telling you this story because it’s about life and every life matters. I’m saying it because sometimes I wonder what Dan would have done if he was here today. Would he still be glad to be in the Army? Would a girl he liked finally realize he was a good one? Would he still want to be in love?
I don’t need an answer and I’m so glad he’s in Heaven. So glad I’ll see him again one day. But today I am sad, I miss him. And sadness isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Dan, be joyful with Jesus. We here are sad, but joyful, until the day we see our Savior face to face – and the day we see you again. Much love to you.
I’m just another sinner trying to find and follow his purpose through his relationship with Isa al Masih (Jesus Christ). I’m also a humble and laid back Christian, willing to admit my many faults. Fortunately, The Lord has blessed me with many great friends and a loving family. I must be eternally grateful for them. Nothing I do is worthy of merit, only those things that Christ works through me. I hope to devote my life to things that achieve the eternal prize.
–Dan’s Facebook “About Me”