Why am I here? I kept asking myself this question again and again tonight while I stood in line. There are so many people here! I hadn’t expected the line to be so long.
On Monday or Tuesday morning of this week, after we had finished discussing something that I can’t recall, my mom mentioned that Jeff Chamberlain’s dad had died. That took me by surprise, more due to the fact that I hadn’t thought of Jeff in a long time. Mom’s tone of voice was matter of fact but not callous as she told me the viewing was Wednesday night from 6 to 8. If it had been another of my classmates, she would have eagerly suggested I pop over to pay my respects, but instead she said, “so, there you are. Just so you know.” Her tone suggested that she would understand completely if I decided to pass. Jeff isn’t exactly a close friend.
I stood there in the funeral home at the back of a line extending out of the viewing room by at least 4 or 5 people. I had expected there to be a dozen in the room, standing around talking. I expected to walk in and to see surprise on the faces of Jeff and Jeff’s mom. I did not expect be there more than 5 or 10 minutes. It was 7:30 . . . almost time to close the viewing; certainly it would be pretty empty. How wrong I was . . . and surprised. But why was I surprised?
Jeff and I went to the same elementary school, middle school, junior high and senior high. We graduated in the class of 2005 and that was the last time I would have seen him though I can’t recall actually running into him at all during graduation.
WHY, am I here??? Because God wants me to be, that’s why.
This explanation is not idle piety or pretentiousness. When I stood in my parents’ room and mom told me about the viewing, I was immediately certain that I should go and would go. I felt so strongly about it at that second but I didn’t say anything to mom. I realized that it would be a good thing to do and that I should do it no matter how I felt about Jeff.
In 5th grade, I dismantled my science fair experiment the day before judging and took it home with me on the bus. When I got home and mom asked me why on Earth I took it down, I explained that Jeff had said it was a stupid experiment. Needless to say my mom drove me back to school (not too inconvenient being that it was just across the highway in front of our neighborhood) and had me set it back up. It went on to win first place in the fair and mom always reminded me that I should not be discouraged and what did people like Jeff know. Jeff probably also picked on me in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade because, let’s face it, I was an easy target so most people did pick on me!
On our soccer team, Jeff was one of the most athletic kids and many of the more average players like myself frequently grumbled at how much of a ball-hog Jeff was. He didn’t pass to other players nearly as much as the rest of us and always seemed to be going for the glory shots. Our team was pretty terrible, but we won at least two games in my 5th grade year and I wasted no time in pointing out to people that those two games were the only ones when Jeff didn’t play!
After standing in line for two minutes or so, Jeff’s mom, Molly Chamberlain, came out of the restroom behind us and began to walk back into the viewing parlor. She stopped when she saw me, said my name, and with a big smile and a hug thanked me warmly for coming. It was then that Jeff himself walked past me and for several seconds I considered calling out to him and speaking to him right then. I only really knew his mom and him; I certainly didn’t know any other members of his family. If I spoke to the two of them, I could leave and avoid waiting in the receiving line which was still out the door at this point. Even so, when Jeff reentered the parlor first and his mom followed, dashing that hope to smithereens, I had a very firm thought/voice in my head tell me “stay!”
Ok, God. I will stay. I guess you have a good reason why I am here. Perhaps my being here will so touch Jeff that it will some how bring him closer to God. I mean, why else would it be important for me to stay? I arrived at the funeral home tonight with this very negative impression of Jeff’s father, Daniel. I honestly can’t tell you any good reasons for having this prejudice against the man. As far as I can remember, I only met Mr. Chamberlain once when I went over to Jeff’s house to play in there basement. I had forgotten about that.
However, mom told me sometime in the last few years, that my dad did not like Daniel Chamberlain for some reason that she never fully understood. I vaguely remember dad not being pleased that I was at their house? Also, maybe some anger about the science fair thing. It also seemed like dad’s dislike came from some personal experience that he never talked about. Whatever the reason, I arrived tonight knowing (or suspecting really) that my dad did not think Daniel Chamberlain was worth much thought . . . and for my dad to feel that way about someone is really unprecedented.
As I stood in line, I realized, mostly because of the evidence right in front of me, that Mr. Chamberlain must not have been too bad a person or so many people wouldn’t be waiting in line this late in the viewing time. I realized that my assumption that the line would be small was pretty unkind of me and I felt a little ashamed, though not nearly as ashamed as I would feel soon.
Like most viewings, there were framed photos and pictures on easels of Mr. Chamberlain with his family. There was a large tri-fold about his time in the army: Recognition of Service certificates, one certificate for an honorable discharge, and another certificate that stated his location as the Army Depot (where my dad worked . . . maybe that’s how they knew each other?). They also had a quality slide show going on the television screen with music and the works.
As I looked at these photographs of Mr. Chamberlain with Mrs. Chamberlain, Mr. Chamberlain and Jeff, and Mr. Chamberlain with other young men and women who I guessed were extended family, it slowly (and I mean slowly) dawned on me that Mr. Chamberlain was a husband and father, and that this family loved each other. That much was obvious from the types of pictures I was seeing and from the way the family was interacting over by the coffin.
I began to realize that my thoughts of “bringing Christ to Jeff” somehow by being there was more than arrogant presumption, it was sinfully prideful. Who the hell am I to think myself so superior to Jeff and his parents? Mom never seemed to like Mrs. Chamberlain very much, and I remember hearing rumors that Jeff had gotten into drugs in school. Not knowing the truth about ANY OF THIS, I had prejudged him, his mom, AND his dead father, the latter of whom I knew absolutely NOTHING about.
Why am I here? The question was in my head but the answer was already coming into focus. I looked at all of these pictures of Daniel Chamberlain. with his son . . . his son. I saw pictures of Jeff with his dad . . . dad. He was Jeff’s dad . . . and now he’s dead.
The tears forming in my eyes now are only half as potent as the ones I wiped away discretely as I looked at more and more pictures that spoke of love and a voice seemed to scold me gently, This is why you are here. What reason do you need to comfort a grieving wife and the son of a man who has died? Why does there need to be some grandiose reason to be loving? Would Jesus need a reason for coming to comfort someone?
I thought to myself, You ass! This man is Jeff’s dad. How will you feel when your dad dies? There it was. And there came the tears too. My dad will die too . . . and I will not be sad . . . I will be devastated. I love my dad so much and I am going to miss him fiercely when he is gone. After consulting the “In Memory Card” afterward, I learned that Jeff’s dad was two years younger than my dad!!! Holy crap, what a wake up call.
When I finally got up to Jeff and his family, I met his two older sisters and older brother whom I never knew existed. I hugged his mom again and she asked me to pass on her greetings and wishes to my mom. And Jeff . . . Jeff shook my hand and hugged me . . . he hugged me!!! I should have been on my knees begging him to forgive me for being so damn judgmental, for harboring dislike all of these years that was probably jealousy in disguise. For thinking I was the one doing him a kindness. I was simply there so my father in heaven could teach me humility and love.
Why was I there? I was there to learn how to view every person I know or don’t know . . . as a son or daughter of God. I just had that fact hammered into me at the retreat I was just at, but I needed the lesson first hand in order for it to sink in. Every man and woman is a beloved son and daughter of God . . . and more down to Earth even: this man I so disliked loved his dad just as much as I loved mine . . . and he misses his dad just as much as I will miss mine one day.
God, Abba, forgive my arrogance please. Teach me love . . . real love and humility and kindness. Teach me what it means to be your beloved son. I love you and I’m sorry. Please wrap Daniel Chamberlain in your loving embrace and give your love and comfort to his wife and children. Teach me to be more compassionate and less prideful. Teach my heart how to love. I love you . . . I’m sorry.