Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Everyone Keeps Dying All Over the Place

Well. They do.

So far I still don't know what it's like to have family kidnapped and my entire community slaughtered. But some people do. Like Emmanuel, for instance.

Emmanuel and Jemima came to work for the group of churches I also worked for, just about a year before I left London. They're Rwandan. Emmanuel was a pastor, and he and his wife and children were not exempt from experiencing many of the atrocities that occurred in their home country. The faith they exhibited in the aftermath was inspiring, and the love was more inspiring still. Although they reached out to whomever God put in their path, they're heart's mission was to bring the reconciliation of Jesus to their fellow Rwandans, even though they were no longer in Rwanda. They never told whether they were Hutu or Tutsi. They never told anyone. "We belong to the Third Tribe," they said. "Jesus' tribe." They wanted everyone to belong to that tribe.

"Someone should write their story," I said, on probably more than one occasion. I never did anything about it, though.

Then Emmanuel contracted some sort of cancer. It was pretty sobering news to find out, so soon after leaving the scene. "Someone should write their story," I said. Emmanuel and Jemima and their adult children believed he would be healed, and truly, I didn't hear anything about the cancer anymore for a long time, so I thought maybe he had. You sort of lose touch with people after a while of not being in their presence regularly anymore.

Then this year, three years after the first diagnosis, my friend Jayne wrote and said that Emmanuel's cancer had become suddenly very aggressive.

"But someone needs to write their story!" I said. It hit me, then, that I had wasted a lot of time and opportunity. People are worth more than their stories, but their stories are always worth telling. Everybody has one. Over the last few months, as people I care about keep dying (Grandpa, Lloyd, Phillip), I've been realising with waxing and waning but quiet desperation that there are all these people around. And no matter how well you love them, you never quite love them enough, and you always take them a little bit for granted, and there are always things about them you never quite learn or know sufficiently, and most of the time you miss out on something.

Emmanuel died over the weekend.

I could still write Emmanuel and Jemima's story. I could talk to Jemima. Her side of the story is just as compelling as Emmanuel's and I would be remiss to discount it. I could talk to their children. I could talk to my London church family, who got to know them better than I. But the grief's too fresh now, and I don't know when it won't be. And in the meantime, I missed the opportunity to really sit down with this man of God and take down the story from his point of view.

I have a Rwandan outfit that Jemima bought me when we celebrated Emmanuel's induction into the service of our church in London. It's purple and beautiful. Maybe I'll wear it on Sunday.


Annelise said...

Jenn, I recently felt compelled to pray for Emmanuel again. I'm sorry to know that he's gone. But it's never to late to write the story--not the same story, perhaps, as you might have written, but there may be cartharsis for Jemima in the telling.

Barry Pike said...

I am sorry for your loss, Jenn. I like your rememberance here, of your friend. I encourage you to write that story, too.

I think the older we get the more we are aware of death all around us, poised it seems, just out of sight. Most of us, unlike your friends, when we are young think little and seldom about death. But the older we get, the more we see of it as family members, friends, and acquaintances seem to die around us with increasing frequency.

My grandmother will be 93 soon. She is very lucid, but ocassionally talks about how it's not great being the last of her generation. She loves us, but she has been saying for a long time that as soon as the Lord is ready for her, she's ready to go. She longs to see the rest of her family again.

I think her perspective is that of one who knows, really knows, that she is close to God and that she can truly and completely trust and rely on Him for everything. I wish I was living like that, too.

Jenn said...


Barry--thanks. And yes, I wish I were, too.

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