Ebola and the Death of Shakie Kamara

Ebola CrowdThe following is based on real events.

Shakie Kamara had a hard life. He had suffered through much more than a 15-year-old would normally be expected to. When he was young, his mother and father had died, leaving him the care of an aunt, Eva Nah. Eva was not in a good financial position to care for Shakie, but she took on the responsibility with a firm sense of duty.

She had been a good caregiver within her means, which were not great. The only housing she could arrange was in one of the poorest slums in Monrovia, West Point. Their small home was cramped, but relatively happy despite the circumstances.

When Shakie had first heard the word Ebola, it was in a radio broadcast talking about a strange sickness in Lofa County. He had not thought much of it then, there were many bad sicknesses in the world and Lofa was far north.

Within weeks, Shakie was hearing from friends that Ebola had come to Monrovia. The discussions in the shacks on rainy days were conflicted. Some were very afraid of this new illness that cause you to bleed from your eyes and eats. Some said that this was a plot by Ma to get more money from America. Some said this was a plague made by white men to eliminate Africans.

Shakie didn’t concern himself with such grand things. Day to day food was a much more pressing issue for him. Eva worked where she could and Shakie also did whatever work he could for their small home.

When the first West Point residents were taken to the hospitals with Ebola, the community became tense. Several people Shakie knew had gone to those hospitals and very few of them ever returned. Not only were they fighting the ever-present plague of hunger, now a fearsome disease was stalking among them.

When the West Point Clinic was opened, Shakie was somewhat relieved. There was not a place for the sick to go. Maybe he wouldn’t get sick now. Plus, with the schools closed and the clinic in the schoolhouse, maybe Eva will get off his back about learning to read better.

The next day, Shakie saw a crowd trotting toward the new clinic. He followed at a distance (they didn’t look friendly). They arrived at the clinic. Men in the front yelled and ripped the gate off its hinges. A mass of humanity rushed into the clinic and many of the sick people were brought out.

Shakie did believe in Ebola so he avoided all the people leaving the clinic. When he saw people leaving the clinic with mattresses, sheets, and food, he rushed into the clinic himself to see what he could grab for his home.

The crowd had been swift and thorough. There wasn’t a stitch of fabric or a crumb of food left in the entire clinic. Shakie searched but all he found were a few nurses and about ten sick people who refused to leave the clinic. On seeing them, Shakie made a quick exit.

There was a strange calm in West Point over the next day. It felt like being heard for the first time in a long time. The slum had been ignored by the government for so long and they had shown them that they mattered. While Shakie didn’t like what was done, it did feel good to be heard.

The following morning, Shakie woke to a commotion outside. There, at the entrance to West Point, was a mound of debris blocking the streets. Soldiers stood behind the piles with guns in hand. A man who had an air of authority to him walked up with a megaphone.

“West Point, Ma has placed you under quarantine. You cannot come or go. If you have any sick people, please bring them to be taken to the hospitals.”

He repeated this several times. Few in the crowd knew what a quarantine was and it took a lengthy explanation from the  soldiers to get the message through.

They were trapped in West Point.

Well, to be clear, people without money were trapped. The bribes to leave came quickly. People quickly learned that if they looked poorer, they could get out with a smaller bribe. Most of the residents didn’t even have the meager amount necessary to bribe the soldiers.

Shakie was on the poor side even for West Point so he and Eva were going nowhere.

The calm after the clinic had been ransacked was gone. Now West Point seethed. Through the night the people of West Point became more and more agitated. They quickly realized they would run out of food. Prices for rice and fruit had doubled immediately once the quarantine had been placed. The soldiers had not mentioned anything about food coming. No one could go out and get food to bring it back.

They would starve.

The air that night was pungent not simply with the usual smell of humanity, but with the sense that something was going to happen soon. As men sat around small fires discussing, all of them were planning how they could escape from West Point.

Shakie was not involved in such discussion. Eva made sure that he was in before dark. During these troubled times, she had kept him on a shorter leash.

As dawn broke, Eva asked Shakie to go to a small shop near the entrance to West Point to get some tea and bread for them for breakfast. After grabbing what he hoped would be the necessary funds, he left. As he approached, a large mass of humanity moved quickly to his left. In an instant, Shakie realized he had walked into a riot. A soldier with a bullhorn was yelling some final warning, but the crowd rushing the barricade was no to be stopped.

Gunfire…

As suddenly as the crowd had lurched forward, it exploded in every direction away from the barricade. Some were bleeding, but in good enough condition to run away. No one noticed a small, 15-year-old boy with his legs mangled beneath him.

“No ma, No pa,” he screamed into the sudden stillness around him. Some trails of blood led back into sundry places in West Point, his blood left no trail, but a pool.

The soldiers didn’t know what to do and stood, paralyzed for a moment. The man with the bullhorn quickly ordered them to call for an ambulance and to tend the boy as best they could.

Despite the close proximity to several hospitals, ambulances in Monrovia take some time to arrive. Shakie was already unconscious with an inconsolable Eva nearby by the time the ambulance pulled up. Shakie was rushed to Redemption Hospital where he died quickly of blood loss.

The Defense Ministry claimed the Shakie had been killed by barbed wire, but the staff at Redemption were not persuaded. Shakie had obviously died from gunfire. The war had taught many of them what a bullet hole looked like in a person’s body.

Shakie Kamara never caught Ebola. The infection was spreading through Liberia and was slowly working out a much deadlier and more dangerous disease: panic. Though Shakie did not die of Ebola, it most certainly killed him.

-Chip

The story above is based on real events. I have taken some artistic liberty, but the events are real. I do not personally know anyone involved, but I felt that the story, as much as it is known, should be told.

The image above is from Abrissa Someri and is used with permission.

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Ebola, Christians, and the Plague of St. Cyprian

1280px-Ebola_virus_virionIn the year 250 AD, something terrible happened. A previously unknown disease was unleashed on the Roman world. For the next sixteen years cities were decimated with up to 5,000 deaths a day at its worst. Wars were halted due to the crippling effects of the plague.

No samples of the disease remain, so we are left to guess what it was. It is possible that it was the original smallpox outbreak which hit an unprepared world with deadly force. Everywhere the disease went, death reigned. Commoners and royalty were both ravaged with even Roman Emperor Claudius II Goithicus dying from it.

We know of the plague because the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, recorded his messages to his followers as they dealt with the death surrounding them. He described the plague like this:

This trial, that now the bowels, relaxed into a constant flux, discharge the bodily strength; that a fire originated in the marrow ferments into wounds of the fauces; that the intestines are shaken with a continual vomiting; that the eyes are on fire with the injected blood; that in some cases the feet or some parts of the limbs are taken off by the contagion of diseased putrefaction; that from the weakness arising by the maiming and loss of the body, either the gait is enfeebled, or the hearing is obstructed, or the sight darkened;—is profitable as a proof of faith.

Cyprian had the unenviable job of shepherding his people through one of the worst catastrophes to ever happen in the Western World. He counseled that Christians should live as though we have a hope. He felt that because Heaven awaits us, we can risk our lives to care for others. He describe the courage a Christian should have like this:

What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith according to His own judgment

This is not the words of a man who is simply thinking out loud, he watched as people died all around of him of this terrible illness. Not very long after writing these words, he had to live them out. He was killed by the Roman authorities in the year 258 AD.

He faced his death with courage.

In light of Cyprian’s example, we too have a dangerous plague to face. I want to challenge you, Christian, to be willing to die. Not to be cavalier and stupid, but to be courageous and wise. Cyprian’s hope and ours is that the moment we die, we go home. We stand with Jesus forever, never to suffer again.

The legacy of Cyprian is closer to you than you realize. His work was instrumental in the spread of Christianity. The Christians were the ones who ran toward the sick and helped them when no one else would. The growth of Christianity after that can be traced ot their response to the Plague of Cyprian.

Let us, too, be the sorts of people who run to the need and risk our lives to do it. Let us “stand erect amid the desolation of the human race.” The only risk we take is that we might die and be with Jesus. The benefit is showing a world how precious Jesus is to us.

-Chip

Ebola and West Point (a true story)

West PointThe following is dramatization based on real events.

Charles Smith had been afraid when he first heard of Ebola. Rumors had been swirling for weeks, but he had not believed them until men from the government rode through West Point with loudspeakers telling them that Ebola was in West Point. They warned to watch for people with fevers and vomiting.

That was also when his doubts about Ebola began. Fever, vomiting? Malaria causes those symptoms too. After 14 years of civil war, he had been lied to by the government before and this did not ring true. His doubts were increased when “health workers” came to West Point wearing suits that we all white and covered them head to toe. He had seen things like this in American films.

West Point, a peninsula in Western Monrovia, was known for its poverty and squalid conditions. 50,000 people share two groups of public toilets (that most can’t afford). The beaches are littered with human waste waiting for the tides to come in and wash it away.

When he heard from friends that even doctors were saying there was no such thing as Ebola, he knew this was a coverup for something else. Something evil. Rumors were spreading that white men were eating people in the white tents and at the ELWA hospital. The posting of signs throughout Monrovia did not impress Charles. Like 75% of Liberians, he couldn’t read them, but signs told more lies that truths in his mind.

Charles took comfort that the Ebola liars were mostly on the other side of Monrovia. The JFK Hospital is uncomfortably close, but still far enough away. West Point had its problems, but the Ebola liars were not one of them.

He was awakened Sunday morning by his friend Thomas. The Ebola liars had come to West Point. A clinic had been opened in West Point itself!

“How can this happen? How can we let them eat our own children,” asked Charles.

He went to visit several friends to discuss this new clinic. Many could die if they don’t act quickly. The small crowd around him swelled to about ten as he discussed fervently how they must stop the clinic. Joseph, an old friend ran up.

“Charles, they have taken Jimmy into the clinic.”

Jimmy, one of Charles’ nephews, had been sick for a few days with Malaria. Now they had brought him into that death trap.

“Come with me friend. Come, let’s stop this madness” cried Charles. The crowd of ten swelling to over one hundred within minutes. Fueled by a smoldering anger at the lies about Ebola, burst into an angry trot.

The clinic was a converted school which was now going to hold patients who had been identified as having Ebola. The plan was for these patients to then go to a hospital when a bed became available.

The shanty gates to the clinic were easily ripped off their posts. The small clinic compound was quickly filled with several hundred people.

“The President says you have Ebola. You don’t have Ebola, you have malaria” Charles yelled, “Get up and get out.”

Many of the patients in the clinic left, including several children. Charles was quite relieved when he saw Jimmy. He had not been sent away to those hospitals to be eaten. Jimmy, clearly weak but able to walk, stood gingerly. Charles walked over and grabbed him under the arm and assisted him out of the compound. Jimmy was safe.

The others did not have such charitable motives. The mass of humanity quickly stripped the clinic bare of all food, mattresses, sheets, and gloves. Charles was indignant with the mob. He was here to save his nephew, not to steal from the clinic. He knew right from wrong and this was wrong.

With his nephew in tow, Charles was in no position to stop the mass looting. Within  minutes, it was done. There was nothing left in the clinic except about ten patients who refused to leave and some desperate nurses who wondered what to do next.

Charles took Jimmy back to his small home. Jimmy was feverish and clearly needed Charles’ care. He brought him food and water. Jimmy was shivering despite his fever. Charles laid next to him on the mattress and pulled him close to warm him. As they both fell asleep, Charles took great comfort that those he loved were close.

They were safe.

-Chip

The characters in this story are all fictional. The events of this story occurred on Saturday, 8/16/14, and are tragically true

 The Image Above is an aerial  view of West Point provided by Juan Freir and Google. It is used with permission.

Ebola and Barnie (a true story)

liberiaThe following is based on real events.

When Abdulah walked home that Sunday, he did not know what he brought with him. He thought he only brought home fruit. He thought wrong.

Ballajah had been under quarantine along with the whole surrounding region. The Ebola scare was felt throughout. The air itself was heavier with the silent menace. Men and women were afraid to go out and work, but they would quickly starve if they didn’t.

Abdulah was forced out of his house by his poverty. Today, he was glad for the food he had to bring home. For the first time in a long time he had plenty of food for Seidia and his two children, Fatu and Barnie. They would have a veritable feast tonight.

With a full stomach and a happier outlook, Abdulah slept well that night. As Monday morning approached, his throat began to feel sore. He tried not to worry. The Ebola patients he had heard of looked very sick and he felt fine otherwise. This couldn’t be Ebola. As the day moved forward, he became feverish, very feverish.

Seidia was clearly worried about him. She tried to feed him and give him plenty to drink, but the vomitting started Tuesday. Abdullah was beginning to look very ill. His eyes were sunken and he grew progressively weaker with each passing hour. Seidia strictly warned the children not to tell anyone in Ballajah of the illness. Whether it was Ebola or not, she knew the elders would cut them off from any community support if they knew that Abdulah was sick.

Things worsened. Abdulah developed severe diarrhea and was too weak to make it to the latrine. He soiled himself several times during the night. With no gloves or running water, she had not protection for herself and he needed to be cleaned up. She washed her hands as best she could with some bleach water left by the government in town. She prayed that God would protect them.

The days stretched on. When the bleeding began from Abdulah’s eyes and ears, they knew he had Ebola.

Mariam, a family friend, had come in unanounced and as soon as she saw Abdulah, she ran out and told the elders. Within minutes a small crowd had come to the front door. They angrily questioned Seidia as to why she had not told them of Abdulah’s illness. She tried ot explain, but nothing would pacify the crowd.

From then on, they were outcasts. Everyone gave Seidia and the children a wide berth. Fatu was chased from the market by several village men. Barnie had no playmates any more. Seitia was cursed by the local women whenever she tried to leave her home. She and the children had run out of food. They could only get water from the river at night when everyone in the village was asleep.

Abdulah had fallen unconscious. He had been sick for more than a week. His breathing had become harsh and rattled. Seitia, grief stricken and at her wits end, began to despair. When Abdulah died on Wednesday, she could only sit in a stupor, staring at his lifeless body. He had been sick for about 10 days.

Seidia now faced two dilemmas. Her husband was dead of a disease that was clearly Ebola. She and the children might get sick. Despite this, the more pressing need is for food. Ballajah had become a prison more than a village. No one would help them. No one would even come near them. Seidia did manage to get the elders to call the authorities to pick up Abdulah’s body.

And so the waiting began. One day passed, then two. No one had come to pick up the body. The smell was becoming overwhelming. It felt unloving to throw him in the street, but what was she to do. It took all of her strength to get him out the door. Tired from the effort, she walked into her house and sat on a stool. It was then that she first felt it. She was nauseated.

It came on fast. She quickly began vomiting and she spiked a fever within hours. With Abdulah’s body rotting outside the door, Seidia now was sure she would join him soon. With none of the village to help her, she cared for herself as best she could. She made sure Fatu and Barnie did not touch her or care for her.

The following day, Fatu became feverish as well. As Abdulah’s body spent a fourth day rotting by the house, a feeling of death reigned inside. Seidia instructed Barnie, who was 15 years old, to go into the bush. Maybe he could be spared this sickness. Barnie resisted but Seidia was firm. Barnie was better on his own than with them.

The following morning, men arrived from the government wearing strange white outfits. They took Abdulah’s body and confirmed that both Seidia and Fatu had Ebola. Seidia had hoped for help from the men, maybe medicine or transportation to a hospital. Instead, she watched as the man instructed the villagers not to go near them.

And then the men left.

No one was going to help them.

In a strange irony, Abdulah’s body had protected Fatu and Seidia from the village. Because he was laying next to the doorway, no one would approach the house. Now that he was gone, the unthinkable happened. The villagers covered the windows and sealed the doorway. Their home had gone from a figurative prison to an actual one.

Fatu was scared. She had been scared for two weeks. Mama had taken care of papa when he was sick, and now he had died.

There was a lot to be afraid of.

The days lengthened in the dark, hot, house. Fatu’s throat was inflamed. As the days passed, mama became too weak to care for her any more. The semi-light of the house made daytime dim and night pitch black. She cried all the time. She cried in her dreams. She cried and yet no tears came out. She was so thirsty. She screamed for help, but no one came.

On Sunday, August 10, Fatu awoke in the dim morning light and looked at her mother. The coarse breaths that Fatu had gotten used were now gone. She looked into the vacant eyes of her mother’s body.

She screamed.

For hours she screamed. The agony of the previous weeks now poured out in a stream of inconsolable sadness. The deep sense of abandonment crashed into a river of sound that would not stop coming.

And still, no one came to help her.

Barnie stayed in the bush nearby. He heard Fatu’s scream. He heard all of her screams. He wanted to go to her. He was afraid of dying. He wanted to run. He wanted to stay.  He wanted to live, but if living is like this, then he wanted to die.

Fatu screamed on and off for a day. She could be heard moaning the following day. On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, she went silent. Her corpse, along with her mother’s, was not picked up by the authorities. It remains rotting in that grim sealed tomb that used to be their home.

Barnie moved into an abandoned home in Ballajah. After the Sherrif family had been sealed in their home, the villagers fled into the bush. No one wanted to be the next victim of Ebola.

Barnie was left to survive on his own. A 15-year-old orphan, he cries all the time. With resources growing thin around the nation, the odds are not in Barnie’s favor. Even if Ebola doesn’t get him, starvation and exposure probably will. He has some of the skills he needs to survive, but lacks others.

As he sits on the stoop of his ‘new’ house. The bright African sun does not help his grief. The silence of Ballajah oppresses him. Ebola had robbed him of a family, home, a village, and probably his life. He feels his inadequacy to survive this. As he sits, he prays that someone will come and help him. Maybe God will send someone to save him, the last of his family.

Maybe God is sending you.

-Chip

The story above is a dramatization of a true story. I have taken some liberties, but I felt their story should be told. 

The Image Above is courtesy of Ken Harper and is used with permission

People Die Just Like They Lived

dying gaulThere is a belief out in the world that people who are dying are different. They look back and see their lives in the sunset and the perspective offers them fresh insight and changes them somehow. It looks really good in a movie and makes a touching story at a funeral.

The reality is both better and worse than that.

As a hospice nurse, I have seen many people die. I tried to understand what drove them in their last days. Many have died with a grave and firm dignity that I envy. Many have died desperately clawing at their lives. Many have died forgiving and being forgiven. Many have died more bitter than they were in life.

For years it perplexed me what they had in common. What does death do to all of us? What do the bitter man and the kind man have in common as they see their lives ending?

The answer, they became even more themselves.

Death really isn’t that transformational. The anxious woman is even more anxious. The caring lady is even more caring. The brave man exhibits previously unknown courage. The coward is even more afraid.

This really shouldn’t be surprising. Dying people are regular people under a great deal more stress. With the rust blasted away by the heat of the moment, the metal below is exposed. Death is, after all, the great equalizer. The rich die and the poor die. The happy and the sad die. The wise man and the fool are both going to die.

That is not to say that these people die the same. Far from it. In death, I want to be the couragious, faithful, and caring man. My hope is that I will be at peace with my own death and will be able to serve those who are going to suffer through my death. The moment I die, my suffering is truly over. I will look my God in the eyes and finally, after many years of waiting, go home. The wait will have been long, but worth it.

Why would anyone feel sorry for me? I get to go home.

Those left behind, on the other hand, will have experienced a profound loss. Doesn’t it make sense that I should make doubly sure that all debts are paid, all that needs to be said has been said, and that every support for those I love will have been attended to.

How do I become that person? The man who serves in death. Because in death I will be just that much more of what I already am, the answer is to work on the me of today. Am I a servant today? All the more so when I die. Am I kind and generous today? I will be that much more when I die.

Don’t treat today like it has nothing to do with your death. If you are unprepared for your death, those you love will suffer the most. Have the courage to face your death today so that when it comes tomorrow, you will be prepared.

We are all becoming more of what we are every day. Age accelerates this change and dying perfects it. Be very careful who you are becoming today. One day you will become that person. I hope you can look at that person in the mirror.

Or maybe I should say I hope you can look your God in the eye on that day?

-Chip

The image of the Dying Gaul is courtesy of Anthony Majanlahti and is used with permission

Naming Dying

deathWe are deathly afraid of dying.

Many years ago when we moved off of our farms and were no longer conscripted to go to war, we stopped seeing things die. With the advent of penicillin and surgeries and chemotherapy and x-rays we became good at not dying…for a little while. As our babies stopped dying as often and our older people lived longer and longer, we stopped thinking of dying.

That is not to say that we stopped dying. All of us die. We just decided not to think about dying.

This was easier for a little while. With sickness and dying segregated away in hospitals and nursing homes, we could ignore them. This worked well enough for a while, but with the advent of the internet and the 24 hour news cycle, dying has been brough back into our faces. When a young man walks into a school and shoots children, we see it. When hundreds of West Africans die of ebola, we see it.

Many of us try to ignore it with much success. You can ignore death for decades of your life. But one day, one very uncomfortable day, death will find you. You will look into the eyes of a doctor who will tell you that you are going to die. Even when you run from it, death will find you.

Even though this reality if frightening, it is not one God has left us alone with. The Bible has a great deal to say about death.

Death is Bad

This may seem obvious, but I have heard Christians argue that death is good. This concept is foreign to scripture.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Gen 2:16-17

Death is a curse, a consequence of rebelling against God. When we weep over the death of a child or the loss of a parent, we are right to do so. We were created not to die, but we do. This is tragic.

Additionally, throughout scripture, death is considered a punishment for sin and foolishness. The greatest crimes in all societies are punished with death. We deeply connect guilt with death because God made us that way.

Humans Live Beyond Death

The author of Hebrews says it this way.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, Hebrews 9:27

Even when we die, our souls live on to be judged by the God who said we would die.

God Died to Take our Judgment

It is not just that we die because of our sins, God chose to die because of our sins too. When he said, “You will certainly die” it applied to him as well.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:6-9

Far from being a cruel God who judges with no mercy, our God has chosen to suffer for us and to suffer with us.

So What?

As Christians, we need to not put our heads in the sand, pretending that our death is not coming. Quite the opposite, we need to be acutely aware of our deaths.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 1 Thes 4:13-14

We are called be live as those who have hope. When we secretly deny death we are clinging to this life as if it were the only life we had. The myth we believe is that we can keep this life for even a little while. Sooner or later, maybe even tonight, we may die.

But think of the freedom of not fearing death. Imagine for a moment how free to go out into a dark world and do good. If there really is an eternal and wonderful future with Jesus before us, how free we are today to give ourselves to a dying and dark world.

Christian, think often of your death. Don’t run from it. It will probably be painful and frightening, but imagine suffering through it to walk out the other side and look into the eyes of Jesus. The pain you feel in death is the last pain you will ever feel. Let’s not live as those who have no hope. Let’s embrace the hope we have and harness it to take risks in the world we live in today.

Might as well, we’re going to die anyway.

-Chip

 

As I Lay Dying

car accidentI never saw the ice.

Awakened by a tapping on the window, I look around. My head is bloody and resting on the door of the car, which is resting on the ground. The steering column is pressed against my chest. Each breath is very painful as I feel several broken ribs grinding on each other. My legs are pinned to the floorboard while a pool of blood begins to fill the broken glass to my left as the driver’s side window rested on the snowy ground.

Tap Tap Tap…

I look up across the width of the car too see a face looking down to me.

“I’ve called 911, there help coming for you man. Hang in there.”

I recognized the face of the trucker who had done his best to avoid hitting me. His face now showed grave concern. He had no way to get to me and I imagine I looked terrible.

Another agonizing breath.

I know I’m in trouble. I have a lot of blood coming out of my arm, my head is swimming. It will take them some time to get me out, probably too much time. My thoughts drift to Sam and the kids, what they will do without me. How will they be financially, emotionally, spiritually? Who will walk Rosie down the aisle at her wedding? Who will shovel the driveway? Who will support my boys through the disappointments of life?

I begin to panic. I need to survive. They need me. They need me to survive this. Yet a quick look at the blood I am losing reaffirms my belief that I am certainly dying.

“Sir,” I said weakly.

“Yeah man, I’m here.”

“I need you to tell my wife something.”

“Now don’t go talking like that. You’re gonna make it. You’re gonna tell her it yourself.”

“Shut up! I need you to remember this.” I yelled weakly. “I need you to tell her that I love her and that I am so sorry I can’t walk through life with her.” I inhaled with a harsh gurgling sound. “I need you to tell my boys that I love them and that I am proud of them.” Another painful breath. “I need you to tell Rosie that I have loved being her Daddy and that she is so beautiful.” Another breath, this one came a little easier. “Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“Dude, I don’t need to tell them. You’re gonna tell them. You’re gonna come out of this.”

“Promise me you’ll tell them.”

“OK, I promise. Now you tell me that you’re gonna make it.”

I was going to make no such promise. The reason for my pessimism was the same reason for the urgency in his voice. In our hearts, we both knew I was, in fact, not going to make it.

I saw some blue and red flashes on the man’s face and he quickly left to direct them to me. I passed into unconsciousness…

It is a strange sensation to die. The pain begins to fade as my grip on this world loosens. It is more pleasant that I would have anticipated before. The grinding of my ribs fades to obscurity. As my physical eyes close, I begin to have another sense. An awareness of things that must have always been there, but indiscernable.

It is like sight, but not like it. There is awareness of direction of things, of a beauty to the worlds that I missed before. It is like seeing the significance of something directly. Before I would use a poem or a painting to show me what I could not see, now I see it.

This is most acute with persons. I can feel the paramedics coming toward the car and I can see them. Not their bodies, their spirits. I see the man whose exhausted from a long shift and wishes he was home. There is another younger man who is excited to be on a real accident site for the first time. I can see the apprehension and guilt of the truck driver who is questioning whether this was his fault.

What is striking though, is the crowd of people there I hadn’t seen before. Thousands of them, tens of thousands. They stood in a wide half-circle looking at me. Sweet expressions of anticipation. They had been waiting for me. Waiting with excitement.

I recognized a young and beautiful woman toward the front. “Grandma Brushaber,” I said.

She smiled and nodded. I had never seen a soul smile along with a face before.

Looking over the crowd, I saw them. So many faces I recognized. Souls I recognized. Nanny, Jean Viar, Miss Quincy, Grandpa Gruver, and a vibrant and healthy Joshua Gruver.

It was strange to see Joshua’s childlike delight in the whole affair. While much of the crowd was somber and serious, he was honestly thinking of jokes about how I had found such a dramatic way to die. It was strange because the jokes were actually hilarious.

The other striking feature was the brilliance of the lights. So many lights. They were so crisp and bright.

“Grandma Hanson, I know what you meant when you talked about the lights!” I said. She smiled sweetly back at me.

But I knew there was someone missing.

“Jesus?” I said.

“We’ve come to bring you to him,” said a genial Danish relative who had prayed for me before I was even born.

It was then that I realized my body was still speaking even as I struggled to leave it. A paramedic had climbed down into the car with me and was doing his best to stop the bleeding. I couldn’t hear his words, but his urgent heart screamed, “Don’t you die on me. It’s not time to go to Jesus yet.”

But he was wrong. It was time.

Joshua and Grandma Brushaber helped me out of my body. I was a bit unsteady, but they are magnificently strong, not wavering a bit even though I am taller than both of them. We walked together as the crowd parted to allow me to pass.

Then he arrived. A small man, not taller than five and a half feet, came running through the crowd. He was obviously middle eastern, but even more obviously the God of all things.

He jumped to me and hugged me with an intensity I could never have imagined. Even though I could not see his eyes in our embrace, I could feel his heart. He loved me like I love my little baby children. It is a sweet and intoxicating love. It shouted off my soul and echoed back to his.

We may have embraced for a second or a thousand years, I couldn’t tell. But I had something I had to ask.

“Jesus, what about Sam and the kids. They need me.”

He answered with some words that I don’t remember, because what mattered was how concerned he was for them as well. He was worried for them too. It was not the desperate worry of the powerless but the delighted concern of one who can act. He was concerned for them and would make sure they were cared for. That was good enough for me.

“Let’s go meet our Father,” he said, “He has been looking forward to having you home.”

We walked through a bright doorway into a place that words don’t describe. It’s not because words haven’t been made to describe it, it is because words cannot be made to describe it. The place was like an explosion of joy filled an enormous room and kept bouncing from soul to soul and back to the God who started it all.

We walked together with Jesus occasionally stopping to tell me how happy he was that I was with him. I was struggling to understand why he kept saying that. Why would he be so happy to see me? I am the one who got to be happy to be with him.

As unimaginable as the place is, it is a pale gray shadow compared to the Spirit in the center.

He is magnificent of all magnificence. Even with my new eyes, I needed to shade them from his intensity. As Jesus approached him, I could feel the vibrating energy between them. It was just on the edge of being seen. It moved in an eternal and endless dance between them.

Of course that energy was not a thing, but a part of God himself. No one will ever see that mysterious Spirit, but his quiet presence is everywhere.

“Daddy, I want to bring you one of your boys. This is Chip.”

It was like watching a seemingly endless sea of joy breaking into a storm. The delight that Daddy felt at me being there was so…wrong. Why would he be so happy to have me? I am the one who is lucky to have him. I am the prodigal and he is the Father and Older brother who are delighted to have me back.

Questions like that do not last long in this place. There is simply too much to experience to think overly long about myself. Even as I bathed in those opening moments of Heaven, I knew I had an eternity left to explore this place and this God.

And that is how long it will take.

-Chip