It was 2008, and the school year was going great. It was a once-in-a-lifetime class for me: no parent complaints, amazing students who were respectful and eager to learn, and not a single bullying issue. It was the year that teachers dream about, the year that gives us strength for the harder years that seem to take up most of our career.
I had an amazing group of boys that year, smart and kind and funny and thoughtful: boys you knew would grow to be phenomenal men.
One of those boys was Ian.
I’d known Ian for quite a while because I’d taught his brother my very first year of teaching. As a first grader, Ian would trip over his own feet trying to catch up with his brother, and his big blue eyes and freckled nose melted my heart to mush. I’d seen him grow through the years and was always hearing about how gifted he was from his prior teachers, what a great heart he had.
And I got to see his amazing heart in action throughout his fifth grade year. I still remember vividly how – upon hearing that a child with disabilities was getting teased – Ian teared up. He internalized everyone’s sorrow and heartache.
He wanted to make this world kinder.
I also remember him writing hilarious stories, his nose crinkling as he smiled when reading them aloud in class. He’d be so excited to tell a joke that he’d start laughing before the punch line.
He wanted to make the world happier.
He’d invent solutions to problems, and his thought process was so transparent that I could almost see the neurons firing in his brain as he discovered something new.
He wanted to make this world better.
And he did. He made it beautiful.
But Ian was diagnosed with osteocarcoma (bone cancer) in 2012.
And Ian died of his disease in 2013, when he was just 15.
For those few months, Ian suffered. I watched his round face grow thin, and his healthy body become bone. Watching him battle the disease tested my faith in a way it had never been tested, and one day I prayed about it.
But it wasn’t exactly a reverent prayer. It was an angry one, full of accusations and hostility and bitterness and utter despair and helplessness.
But God – being His amazing Self – put a peace on my heart as I meditated. And He did it through a story: one I had to write immediately, although Ian was still with us.
And it was one I had to write from his parents’ point of view.
At the time, I was a new parent, and I struggled with my sorrow regarding my love for this boy, but also struggled with the “what ifs” that I had as a parent. What if that were me? What if my baby – my heart – had to leave this world? How could I possibly be strong enough?
So God inspired me with words, and after writing the story, I sent it to his parents, who were – and still are – close friends of mine.
They identified with the story and asked me to read it at his funeral, which I did with honor.
Today, though, I’m sharing it again, because I find myself lost in this crazy world. And for some reason, the story grounds me. I’m sharing it with the blessing of Ian’s parents.
If you’re lost, feel free to read it, too.
God bless. And rest in peace, dear Ian. I miss you.
The days were getting shorter and the temperature colder as I began my nightly ritual of cozying up on the couch. I threw the blanket over me and grabbed the remote, turning the channel on the TV to my favorite news station. Opinions were being shouted across the desk about the current governmental authorities. Images were popping up, showing my comfortable self at home pictures of soldiers running toward gunfire, children rummaging through rubble to try and find loved ones, and riots brewing in foreign streets. They seemed to jump off the screen and float into my living room, a constant reminder of the evil that coexists in this world with us.
A commercial comes and I turn my gaze away, subconsciously seeking happier thoughts. Chasing them, of course my eyes land on a picture on one of our end tables. It has bright, beautiful colors and is encompassed with a tasteful wood frame. I pick it up and immediately smile.
The person in the picture is a boy, more precious than any other I’ve ever seen. His brown, shaggy hair hangs down, covering his forehead as he proudly showcases the latest style. His pale face is masked with a thousand freckles sprinkled over the top of his nose, and his blue eyes sparkle as if he alone knows the meaning to some inside joke. His upturned nose crinkles with the laugh, and it’s almost as if you can hear it: the joke he’s told, the chime of his laughter, the pause he emits as he waits for others to get it.
Tears well up in my eyes as I hug the picture to my chest. The picture of the boy, so happy and so, so, incredibly good, brings about only positive emotions at first. But, as always, sadness quickly follows, and the picture is yet another reminder of the despair that is omnipresent in our lives.
“Why?” I ask myself again. I think back to the images on the television. “Why, with so much evil in the world, did God have to take something so incredibly precious? So incredibly good?” I close my eyes. The picture of the boy still pressed to my chest, I think of him, remembering how kind he was. And my god, was he funny. He was always cracking up. He was smart, too: intelligent beyond his years, always questioning and always creating. During the all-too-short time I had with him, he amazed me every single day. He brought nothing but happiness into the lives he touched, nothing but good to the world.
How could God take away something so good for me?
How could He take away something so good for the world?
How could He ignore my prayers?
How could He? How could He? HOW COULD HE?
I think back to those last weeks, when we’d found out our days with him were numbered. I’d pled with God. I’d told him I needed him, that I would switch places with him, that he would bring far more to this world than I ever could.
But God did not answer that prayer, and my boy was gone before I knew it. My own heart had been ripped out of my body.
I lay there on the couch, hating the world, sadness overcoming my body with wracking sobs. Over and over again, I repeat the words to myself: How could He? How could He? How could He?
I’d been faithful. I’d prayed so hard. I’d gotten second, third, fourth opinions. I’d asked that God work through those doctor’s hands.
How could He?
Suddenly my mind feels heavy – numb – after being shocked with the jolt of emotion that coursed through it. I allow my head to lower and my eyes to close.
And the scenery changes around me. I’m surrounded by complete…nothingness. I turn around quickly but only whiteness surrounds me: it’s not bright, just a muted colorlessness. I sit across from another person. Oddly enough, I know who he is, even though I’ve never laid eyes on him.
I glare at him, hoping that he crumbles under the force of all my anger.
“How could you?” I ask again, this time aloud. Again, I spew my thoughts from before, my reasons for the man standing before me being unjust. I make my points by ticking them off my hand with my aggressive pointer finger, making them more hateful, full of spite and sadness and bitterness and despair. “After all I’ve done, that he could have done….how could you?” I finish with tears flooding my eyes.
I am so caught up in my own rant that I fail to see that the man in front of me is crying, too.
“I’m so, so sorry,” he says, tears still streaking down his face as he reaches for my hands and holds them in his own. “I’m sorry.”
I look down so I don’t have to deal with his sadness; it’s enough that I have to deal with my own. “Why?” I ask simply. “Why him? Why my son?”
Again, the man in front of me silently sobs, softly rocking back and forth.
“He had so much time left, so much to add to this world, so much happiness to give to others.” I pause, then ask again. “Why?”
The man looks at me through blurry eyes, leaning forward, still holding my hands. “He didn’t belong here,” he whispers.
I take a second to digest this reasoning, really think it through. “Didn’t belong here?” I ask. “Didn’t belong here? What do you mean- of course he belongs here! Of course he belongs with me, in this house, with his family and his friends! There is nowhere else he belongs!”
A moment passes with no answer. “He belongs with me,” I plead desperately. “In my arms. So I can watch him, do what’s best for him. When you gave him to me, I thought that meant you trusted me with him. Why trust me with him and then take him away?”
He wipes away his tears and takes a deep breath. “It’s a hard thing for a parent to do, to love a child unconditionally and then be helpless as he suffers.”
I nod silently, still weeping, glad he could at least address the hurt I was feeling.
“There are reasons I gave him to you, you know,” he says. “You were born to love him, to guide him, to help make him the person who was so special that he touched thousands of lives. I knew only you could love him like you did. Only you could give him the foundation you did and the faith to know he’d make a difference.” He motions to the picture I was still holding. “Kids like that, they don’t need a lifetime to make the world a better place.”
The man comes over to my side and sits down. He pats my knee and turns my shoulders so I face him. He holds onto them to make sure I am focusing only on him, nothing else. “He was too good for this fallen world,” he says. I shut my eyes to try and reason away his words. “You’ve seen the news images,” he continued. “You’ve seen the evil. He’s too good. And he never belonged here.” He tilts my chin up so I have no choice but to see his face and hear his words. “He never belonged here,” he reiterates.
The words play over and over in my mind. “He never belonged here.” I weep over them, am lost in them.
“Then why did you bring him here in the first place?” I ask. Maybe my hurt would have never occurred had I not known this love.
The man in front of me frames my face with his hands once again. “My child, he came so you and everyone else who knew him could have just a taste of the magnificence to come.” He smiles. “That boy,” he says, pointing to the picture I held so closely to my heart, “He brought nothing but goodness to this world. And the world that’s waiting for you over here? Well, it’s filled with nothing but good.”
My tears begin to dry up. “Nothing but good?” I ask. “Does that mean-“
“Yes,” he answers before I get a chance to finish. “That means that only good things, like that boy, will be with you in my world someday.”
My heart beats stronger with those words, the promise that I will hold my little boy in my arms again, but as always, doubt begins to creep its way back into my mind. “It’s too far away,” I say suddenly. “And I miss him too much. How am I supposed to wait until then to see him, to be with him? To love him? To tousle his hair and listen to his jokes?”
The man hugs me tightly once more. “You’re going to have those moments. The ones where you are overcome by sadness and despair. But when you do…” He holds me out at arm’s length again. “You come to me and find peace.”
He looks off into the distance, sadness present in his eyes once again. “Because I know what it’s like to give your son up to another place, to have watched him – so full of purity and goodness – live in fallen world. I know what it’s like to have seen your son suffer.”
He looks down and shakes his head, shakes out the horrible memories. He looks me in the eye and speaks earnestly. “But I also know what it’s like to see your son again, away from this world. And it’s not too far away, you know. It may not seem like it, but life has limits. Eternity is what’s forever.”
He pauses, then gestures to the emptiness in front of him. “I want you to close your eyes and picture a beach,” he says.
I do as I’m instructed.
“This life is just one grain of sand on a whole beach. That beach, full of all those grains, is eternity. I know you’re suffering through this life, that it’s not perfect. But pure goodness and joy is in all those other grains of sand. Those grains of sand are what’s to come. Now open your eyes.”
I follow his instructions. “Focus on what’s to come, my child,” he says. “Because the good you miss now in this life will be the first to greet you in the next.”
My eyes pop open. Salty tears are dried on my cheeks. The TV is still on, the blanket is still covering me as I sit on the couch. I slide it off and leave it behind. I turn the television off and head to bed.
Remembering what’s to come, I no longer need the blanket to warm me. I have my memories. And I no longer need the TV to distract me. I have the promise of eternity to concentrate on. I stop suddenly in my tracks and turn to go back into the living room. There, on the couch, lay the picture of my son, who had shown me what love really was. I pick it up and take it with me.
It is a reminder of the goodness that will, someday soon, surround me once again.
He smiles up at me from the frame, ready to tell me another one of his jokes.
Source: Amanda Deich