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It Changes You

It changes you.  Hundreds and hundreds of times.  I can’t really count how many times over the past 25 years I’ve stood in the space between death and life.  Arriving on scene as a first responder chaplain moments after a death has occurred standing between the dead and the living.  Standing in that space between the shock and grief of loved ones and their reality of the finality of life for the one deceased.  Once living, breathing, thinking, expressing then in a second gone…no more…a corpse.  From six months old to 100 years old whether by cardiac arrest, suicide, homicide, accident, plane crash, car crash, illness or an unknown cause I’ve stood between the living and the dead. I’ve laid hands on some of the deceased offering a prayer and at times helped carry the bodies away.  I’ve heard the wailing, screaming, anger, hopelessness, despair never the same and in decibels the full range, but sometimes a quiet, stoic, shocking numbness and quiet disbelief.  I’ve stood there observing, wondering, contemplating while taking it all in attempting to figure out how, if at all, I can be of any help.  Hundreds and hundreds of times.  And it changes you. 

How does it change you? Honestly, I’m not really sure.  No doubt you think about living and dying more than the average person, though we all do.   How long will I live?  How will I die? Will I die before my spouse? Will any of my children die before I do? How many of my friends will die before I do if I don't go first?  You can’t help but think about life after death every time you stand in that space which I have hundreds and hundreds of times.  Is heaven really real?  What is that realm we call heaven really like?  Death knocks on doubt’s door and  will bring about some thoughts of unknowable wonder about the afterlife.  But the reality of death unlike any other reality in our lives will demand a true faith in the face of doubt, uncertainty and even curiosity.  Not long ago I asked a dear dying friend days before he passed what he thought most about contemplating the beyond.  His response after a long moment, “I’m curious.” 

All my Christian life two things more than any other have been my foundation of belief.  The first is what drew my soul to God.  It is love.  First, to be loved and second, to learn love and third, to love.  It is, in my mind, the whole point of God…the whole reason we are here…the whole reason, no other.  None.  The second thing is the resurrection of Jesus.   It is literally unbelievable.  Who does that?  But there is no better explanation for not only how each of the disciples went to their death, most all of them a torturous death, proclaiming the resurrection never denying it happened.  There is no explaining how the movement of the early church (not organized religion) exploded over time despite how the power of Rome, the most powerful human force on the planet, was fiercely against Christianity and did everything in its power to destroy the movement.  There is no other way to explain how the very short and brief ministry of Jesus changed the course of history for arguably all of mankind forever.  I choose to believe Jesus somehow appeared alive after his crucifixion.  Unbelievable but believable.

Standing in the gap between the dead and the living has changed me.  Maybe in some not so good ways I might confess. Like many of the officers and firefighters I work with, you become more guarded with your emotions.  Perhaps a little less inclined to be vulnerable with others because you’ve had to be the strong one keeping your emotions in check while in the presence of so much suffering so often for so many years.  Maybe you become more prone to be an adrenalin junky taking risks that might not be in your best interest.   But in good ways it changes you too.  It helps you narrow down what is important in life.  How precious living really is and how important the living loved ones in your life are.  In a good way, you come to grips with doubts even if it is uncomfortable and at times, a lonely journey.

It changes you.   Life changes you if you live long enough.  You each have stories of events that have pushed you to the limits of your faith and maybe beyond.  I’m not the only one, eh?  Faith, hope and love.  The greatest of these is love. 

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Thanks for always sharing your honest and open insights with us. Know we all can relate and thank you for being the person to show Jesus's love to so many when they need it most.

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