I remember a horrific story I heard on the news a few years ago. A member of a sky diving club decided to take a video camera with him and film the club's jump. On the plane before the jump he took care to see that his video equipment was all ready. After all, it would be a shame to make the jump without fresh batteries and a blank tape in the camera. When the plane reached the proper altitude the sky divers jumped, and the one with the camera started filming their descent. There was only one problem. He had taken care to get his video equipment ready, but he had forgotten to put his parachute on. When he reached to pull his ripcord, it wasn't there. He fell to his death.
I have often thought of that man and tried to imagine what he felt during his fatal fall. No doubt there was terror, but I imagine he also had thoughts of self recrimination--"you stupid idiot." I am sure he wished he could have replayed the last few minutes, but there was no way to get back in the plane and do it over again. It was too late. It was an act of simple forgetfulness, but it had drastic consequences.
Such events are not as rare as one would think. Lives are full of similar events--simple acts of carelessness with drastic consequences. Sometimes they are not acts of forgetfulness but intentional actions of choice. A man falls to temptation and sleeps with a woman other than his wife, and it leads to the breakup of his marriage and the alienation of his children. A teenager drinks and drives and is involved in an accident which kills his best friend. There is no way the actions can be taken back no matter how much one would wish. The consequences sometimes are more severe than one would have ever imagined while engaging in the misdeed.
It does us good to remember that life is full of danger of all types--including moral danger. Actions have consequences. People can be hurt and lives destroyed even when there is no intention of doing so.
The police sergeant on the old TV show, "Hill Street Blues," put it well: "Be careful out there."
Peter, the apostle, was even more pointed: "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour."
©1997 C. David Hess
The Hamilton community was saddened to hear the news Friday morning of the death of Colgate basketball coach Jack Bruen. Jack Bruen's last days, as the rest of his life, were marked with class and humor.
This fan attended Colgate basketball games in the days when the joke was that the fans were introduced at the beginning of games rather than the players because it took less time. This was at the beginning of the Bruen era. The level of basketball sometimes could be disappointing in those days, but Jack was always entertaining. This fan will never forget the occasion in which one of the officials called Jack for a technical (Jack sometimes would let the officials know of his displeasure). The next time that official called a foul against Colgate, he looked over at Jack ready to call another technical if need be. Jack clapped his hands in mock applause at the call. You've just got to love a guy like that.
Jack was not only entertaining; he was a good coach. Under his leadership the Colgate basketball program was turned around. His teams won, and the once empty stands were filled.
In recent days, the stands were filled, not just with those wanting to watch Colgate basketball, but with those wanting to express their support of and affection for Jack. He joked that they were there just because they had heard that he was going to buy them drinks. Even during these most difficult days of his life, his humor never failed him or those around him. Humor was the way Jack helped others face his terminal illness. When telling his players a few months ago of his pancreatic cancer, he told them that when it's your time to go there are two options.
"You go up there or down there," he said, pointing to the heavens and down below. "I'm going down there. That's where all my friends are."*
Mark Twain wrote, "Everything human is pathetic. The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."
If Twain was right and Jack was wrong about his assessment of his final destination, he has no need of humor now for he has Joy. The rest of us still need humor to help us cope. For that we will ever be thankful to Jack.
*This version of the quote originally appeared in the Syracuse Post Standard. The December 21 edition of the Post Standard contains this version:
"When you're sick," he told his players at Cotterell Court, "only two things can happen. Either you get better or you get worse. If you get better, no problem. If you get worse, only two things can happen. Either you live or you die. If you live, no problem. If you die, only two things can happen. Either you go to heaven or you go to hell. If you go to heaven, no problem." And then Jack, a former bartender who knew something about timing, paused for effect. "And if you go to hell," he announced, "hey, all your friends are there."
©C. David Hess
I am concerned that depression is getting too bum a rap lately. On the Today show recently, a guest indicated that depression is more a problem than our society has acknowledged, that many more people are seriously depressed than we think. She indicated that there are new and more effective drugs for depression and that more depressed people need to go and see their doctors.
Now I know there is such a thing as serious medical depression, and I know that the use of drugs to treat such conditions is indicated. But I believe the numbers this person was giving were way out of line as regards medical depression. Most depression is not “medical,” and most depression is not a bad thing. Just the opposite. Depression is most often a very healthy thing. Most depressed people are depressed for good reason. Depression usually indicates that something is going wrong in a person’s life. There is a problem with the spouse, or in the family, or with their job. Perhaps they are depressed because they feel their life has no real purpose. Perhaps they are depressed because they are spiritually empty, because they need God. (As Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”) In this regard, depression is like pain. Nobody likes pain, but pain is a wondrous gift. It indicates that something is wrong with our bodies. How terrible it would be if your body were injured and you never knew it because you could feel no pain. If there were no symptoms, how could the underlying injury or disease be discovered and treated?
Thank God for pain, and thank God for depression. If you are depressed, why? What is there in your life you need to address? Address it! Don’t take a pill!
©C. David Hess
We were deeply saddened by the death of 17 year old Blaine Waas in a car accident this past week. Blaine was the grandson of Glenn and Evelyn Waas of Hamilton. He lived near Rochester with his parents, Peter and Jo Waas. Death is never easy to take. It’s particularly harsh when it takes a 17 year old from us. Rev. William Sloan Coffin, in writing of the death of his teenage son, writes that when a parent dies you lose your past. When you lose a child, you lose your future as well. I have long since given up any attempt at fully explaining life or death. As the Bible says, "We look through a glass darkly." I am convinced that not all things that happen in this world are God’s will. When the car in which Blaine was riding crashed, I am sure that the first heart that broke was God’s. One thing the family said over and over through this experience was that they didn’t want Blaine’s death to be for nothing. They wanted something good to come from it. For this reason they donated his organs so that others might live. They expressed the hope that the accident might cause other other young people to always buckle their seat belts (Blaine’s belt was unbuckled) and that they should not drive when they are sleepy or tired. I believe Blaine’s family’s sentiments are exactly right. At the heart of the Christian message is the proclamation that God can bring good out of even the worst evil. If the cross of Jesus says anything, it says that.
©1996 C. David Hess
I have thought much in recent days of the truth of John Donne's words: "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." The nature of our community is such that we all very much feel the deaths of our neighbors. My own across-the-street neighbor, Bert Goodrich, died a couple of weeks ago of cancer. Then there was the unexpected death of Dan Bergen, a vital man of 60, who has contributed so much to the life of our village. This past weekend Maureen Buschatzke, a mother in the prime of life, collapsed in front of her home after returning from cross-country skiing. A few months ago there were the deaths of two local teenagers, one in an auto accident, the other in a shooting accident.
On January 14, The New York Times, contained an obituary for Richard Versalle, 63, a tenor with the Metropolitan Opera. He died on stage during the premiere of "The Makropulos Case." The Times reports, "Mr. Versalle, who, in the opening scene, was singing the role of Vitek, an elderly clerk in a law firm, fell 10 feet from a sliding ladder he had mounted to place a file for a century-old legal case back into its drawer. As he sang the words 'Too bad you can only live so long,' his voice faltered and he fell to the floor..."
All these are reminders of the truth of the Psalmist's words: "Lord, teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."
©C. David Hess
A lot of things happened while I was on vacation. One of them was the death of Mickey Mantle. As I was reading some newspaper articles about him the day after he died, I found myself fighting back tears. I was surprised. I am a pretty hard hearted person, not easily given to tears. Why the tears?
I certainly was a Mickey Mantle fan. When I was a boy I think I was the only Yankee fan in the whole state of West Virginia. All the rest were Yankee haters. I was a Yankee fan because of Mantle. No doubt a large part of my grieving for him was grieving for my lost childhood, but there was more. I was genuinely touched by the grace with which he lived his last days. Nobody could put it better than Bob Costas did:
"...in the end, something remarkable happened--the way it does for champions. Mickey Mantle rallied. His heart took over, and he had some innings as fine as any in 1956 or with his buddy, Roger, in 1961. But this time, he did it in the harsh and trying summer of '95. And what he did was stunning. The sheer grace of that ninth inning--the humility, the sense of humor, the total absence of self pity, the simple eloquence and honesty of his pleas to others to take heed of his mistakes."
He referred to a cartoon in the Dallas Morning News which showed St. Peter with his arm around Mickey, saying: "Kid, that was the most courageous ninth inning I've ever seen."
It was a reminder again that we often minister to one another best, not when we minister out of our strength, but out of our weakness. Members of AA know this, and this is at the heart of the Christian gospel. God reached our hearts, not when He approached with His strength, but in His weakness, on the cross. His "strength is made perfect in weakness."
©C. David Hess
Like many in our community I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of John Rexine. It reminded me of how much I hate death. This statement may be shocking to some. Most seem to expect clergy to utter sentimental talk about "acceptance" and treat death as if it somehow were a servant of God and friend of humanity's. The Bible has a more realistic attitude when it calls death "the last enemy." This is not to say that death cannot sometimes come as a friend (as a deliverer from pain and as an usher into the presence of Christ) or be God's servant (all things in the end serve Him including His enemies). But it is to say that death's primary identity is an enemy to God and humanity. Like sin (the two are commonly linked in the Bible), death is ultimately evil because it breaks relationships. I have always liked this slightly modified version of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge Without Music":
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts into the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind.:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
[God is not resigned; I am not resigned]...
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,--They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
The line that was added ("God is not resigned...") is completely appropriate. The resurrection of Christ demonstrates that for all time. In the end he will "reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death...thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 15:25-26,57)
©C. David Hess