Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Season of Loss

"To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven."

Ecclesiastes 3:1

The last couple of years have amounted to one long season of loss. Frankly, it's wearing me down.

I've been through this kind of thing before, although not quite as extensively as lately. It's been getting to the point where I'm almost hesitant to check my e–mail for fear there will be word that someone else I know has died.

Let me backtrack a little here. I was raised in the South.

And, if you were raised in the South, there are times when — regardless of what your personal religious beliefs may be — a quotation from the Bible is the only appropriate answer to the complicated question of why bad things happen to good people.

For me today, the above quote from Ecclesiastes — which was more popularly known when I was a boy as a line from a song by the Byrds — is the one that keeps coming to mind.

Yesterday, I received an e–mail from one of my high school classmates reporting that the son of another classmate had been killed in a car accident.

I have written of this classmate before, most recently last February after his father, a man known as "Justice Jim" Johnson, committed suicide.

Justice Jim, as I mentioned at that time, was something of a notorious segregationist politician when I was a child. He also lived just down the road from my family, and I spent many afternoons playing with his twin sons, who were my age.

I found this undated photo of David's twin brother
Danny (left) with their father, Justice Jim (right),
and Danny's daughter at some sort of school dinner.

Few people outside my own family have known me as long as David Johnson and his twin brother, Danny. When their father killed himself about five months ago, I found myself frequently thinking about my childhood and pondering the bizarre twists and turns of life — the randomness of it all.

I reflected a great deal on myself as a child, and I pondered what I might tell that child if I could go back in time and talk to him. But the well was dry. What could I tell him? I know I had no idea what the future held. Not even a clue. No one does, really, even those whose lives seem to have been pre–ordained. What wisdom would I share with him that might make his life easier?

I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, of course, what I wanted to study in college and all that. But, in spite of my plans and expectations, life has, at times, taken me in totally unexpected directions. It is at such times, I suppose, that I am reminded of how little I really do control.

"Life is what happens to you," said John Lennon, "while you're busy making other plans."

That's OK, I guess. I'm a journalist, by training, experience and inclination, and it can be difficult for a journalist to be in the dark, to not know all the facts, but journalists learn to live with imperfections like that. However, in the last couple of years, it seems like darn near everything is out of control. And there are many times when that is a little too imperfect for me.

I don't know the details of the accident that took the life of David's son, but to be 21 years old and (presumably) healthy and then to die in a car accident seems — to me, anyway — to be perhaps the most random way a person could die.

And the pain of losing your father and your child within a matter of months is something I cannot begin to imagine.

I've never been a fan of Garth Brooks, but he might be on to something when he sings that our lives are better left to chance.

Is there anything good to be found in this? I'd like to think so — for my friend's sake — and for my own peace of mind as well.

As I say, I've experienced seasons of loss in my life, and the one through which I have been living lately often seems as if it will never end. Such seasons have come and gone. In short order, bad times have been followed by good times in the natural ebb and flow of the human existence.

But lately the bad times seem to last longer than they did, and the good times are fewer and farther between. Is that just a normal function of aging?

Or has it been worse in the last couple of years because everything else seems to be so screwed up? You know what I mean — the avalanche effect.

I don't know why the Ecclesiastes quotation keeps running through my mind — unless it is because of the dual message it offers. Yes, it acknowledges that time is short — that, in the words of another popular song, it's later than you think.

But, rather than urge readers to enjoy themselves, Ecclesiastes offers the assurance that there is an appointed time for everything. In hindsight, that time may seem very short, and you may be denied the satisfaction of seeing your goal(s) fulfilled. But if one has faith, it seems to me, one must believe that, in some way, every life — no matter how brief it may be — makes a contribution.

My faith isn't always as strong as I'd like it to be, but I would like to believe that.

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