As 11 year old boys, they had their whole lives in front of them. By a “stroke of luck” they became neighbors, but it was their mutual quest for friendship and acceptance that drew them together. The unspoken childhood law of expected uniformity set the spotlight on their differences and for a time labeled them as “outcasts” in upper-middle class suburbia. Perhaps that’s what softened the Arabic Kid’s heart toward the New Kid’s heart, and vice versa. Billy (as he was known then) and Ed forged a binding friendship that would last on into forever. That circle of friendship stretched and grew to include many others through the high school and college years, but Billy and Ed always held a special place in their hearts for one another. First girlfriends, break ups, parties, sports, first jobs, learning to drive, practical (and sometimes impractical) jokes, college, and then on into adulthood, they were always there for one another. They supported one another through the adjustments of marriage and fatherhood, the circle growing to include the brides and the babies — the wives and the kids. Their careers and families sent them off onto different paths, but the brotherly bond of friendship persevered. Whether an impromptu game of poker or a backyard barbecue they easily picked up right where they left off. Fortunately for Billy and Ed they never lived out of driving distance from one another. Even though they saw each other from time to time they always figured there would be plenty of tomorrows to plan the more frequent get-togethers and outings.
The news that Ed was gone took the breath out of my lungs as I listened to “Billy” trying to reason with the person on the other end of the phone line. No. What? How? Why? No! Ed!? Ed?! I knew. He knew. But it didn’t and it still doesn’t make any sense — to us, to the ones left behind. The physical heart of the tender-hearted Ed had stopped beating after 41 years of faithful service, leaving behind his beautiful heart-broken wife, their 3- and 5-year-old daughters, and a sea of family and friends who will miss him dearly.
It was a gray and colorless day, the day we said goodbye. “The coldest day of the year yet,” I’d overheard. The sharp cold was ineffectual to the numbness of grief that had already instated itself upon everyone. Out of habit I was thankful for the scattered warmth of sunshine that fell upon my shoulders from the window behind me. I listened to the Arabic chants — soulfully aware of their sanctity though not able to understand them. The acrid smell of the incense, a chip in the smooth surface of the wooden pew beneath my fingers, and the surging wails of mourning from the front rows of his devastated family. My eyes met the ornately painted saints and apostles looking back at us from the altar, flecks of dust and a wisp of incense in the sunlight, and suddenly they motioned “Billy” forward. He looked around, uncertain if the gesturing were intended for him. The nods propelled him forward, his notes in hand, he approached the podium. Nervously but confidently, he took the spotlight — no longer the New Kid, but as the old friend of almost 30 years, known now as William. The tears and lamenting were temporarily abated as the crowd listened to stories of goodness, of shared friendship, of laughter and of love. Although some may not have been able to understand his spoken words, they too were soulfully aware of the sanctity of their mutual love for this man that not even death can squelch.
The casket was reverently carried from the shiny white hearse to the burial service within the warmth of the chapel. The branches above bore tiny implications of spring. I was reminded in that moment of the promise of new life, rebirth and eternal glory. Ed’s. Ours.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
(John 3:16 NIV)
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:1-5 NIV)