I am getting old.
That is not a complaint. It is actually a statement of Thanksgiving. Being only midway through this life (at least, I hope), I have seen quite a few years pass me by. I also look forward to a few more before I am through. That said, I know that each day when I wake that this could be the day when I say goodbye to this life. My heart may go. I might have an accident on the road. The house could fall down around my ears. I could be the victim of violent malice, or simply just a random person caught up in a broader tragedy. As I get old, I realize that much of what I just noted is not under my control (beyond caution and better self-care).
How do I know this is true? Because I have known, loved and lost many over the years to those same moments. Death overtook them at home, in the hospital, just next door and overseas. Death overtook them when they were ready. Death overtook them by surprise. Some were ready. Most were not. Some were in harm's way. Some were not. Some I knew and loved as family, most I knew and loved as parishioners. Some, I only knew their name. Some I did not know at all, except by other's testimony.
All, now, are among the fallen.
I am not maudlin as I stop and remember the fallen. I don't dwell in those shadows as one who despairs. I don't reject the reminder that life is irrepressible and insistent on continuing even after one we love dies. Remembering the fallen gives me pause, certainly...but it also gives me the opportunity to marvel and rejoice at a life that can be so rich, so beautiful, so hope-filled even when it is tinged with sadness and grief. I remember the fallen, and I give thanks that I am here to remember them. I remember the fallen and I celebrate their memory, their wisdom and the lessons their lives still teach to those who continue on.
It isn't easy to remember the fallen. We can be tempted to feel their absence as a void. We can stumble from grieving into despair. We can lose ourselves in the "then" because the "now" is painful; but when we are able to keep a handle on remembering, preserving it from despair, then some awesome things can happen.
We find out that we can continue, even in the face of abject loss. We can look on the intervening years as portals to new growth and experiences that, while not shared, can still be joyful. We find out that while "back then" we were certain that we couldn't carry on, in remembering the fallen we discover that not only have we carried on....we have even on occasion prospered.
There are still hard hours, days, weeks, months. There are still moments when we find ourselves on a return trip through the valley of the shadows.
But when I remember the fallen, more often nowadays than not, I find myself smiling...just a little. I find myself feeling....hope. I find myself more certain then ever that the God I met in Baptism before I knew much else as an infant has been on this journey with me the whole time. I find that God in the warp and weft of all the gains and losses I have known, particularly in the moments when I have marked the mortal end of those I have known and loved. Those are the moments when I not only remember, but also assert and proclaim that not even death can in the end overcome life in Christ.
I am getting old....and for that I am grateful. It allows me more time than ever to remember...and more of the fallen to remember and give thanks to God that they touched this life, and me. I am grateful that I can continue to tell their story until one day someone might tell mine.