This week I had two young deaths cross my path. One will be mourned by a few but was a life well lived and one that touched those few very deeply. The other is one that has made headlines and drawn a lot of attention but was really a wasted life.
The first young man was only 18. He had suffered for a long-term illness. Despite my friendship with his mom, I had no idea what affliction had bound him to a wheelchair. All I knew about him actually was that he was a fighter and a winner. Because of him our church camp made long needed renovations to accomodate not only Josh and his chair but other physically challenged kids and adults. In that Silver Lake is such an amazing place, this was such a great thing as it offered more opportunities to more people to spend time there.
I met Josh's mom in 2004 at a workshop for youth leaders. I knew I liked her immediately when I saw her rag-tied flip-flops and her toe ring. I hadn't reclaimed my freedom and courage at that point so I wasn't aware that she was part of the adventure my life would become. What I did know was that we both related to teenagers when it came to ministry in very similar ways. We knew that high schoolers and college kids worship was louder and more colorfully than adults but with a lot more cynicism than little kids. Once you gave them permission to bring humor into faith along with trusting them to try new approaches to love, worship and service, they blossomed like big neon colored flowers. They would even laugh, sing and conquered their fear of failure.
As the years have passed I learned about Josh, actually at Silver Lake when Kathy had her kids there for a Confirmation Retreat. I had so much more respect for her watching how she managed her group of confirmands and chaperones while looking out for Josh's special needs. She's a freakin' awesome mom and my hat's off to her because I don't know if I could be half as brave, courageous and hard-working if in the same boat.
Josh did graduate high school. But he didn't live to see Christmas this year. I didn't find out until a few days later when I signed on to Facebook for the first time in over a week. My heart broke reading Kathy's posts about one less chair at that table and going to Christmas Eve service without her son. I hugged my boy a little harder and took time to chat with my daughter in MD that night.
Although I didn't know Josh, from all that I've read in the past few days from his family and friends, his was a life well led. He did everything he could with it even from a wheelchair. He left a lasting effect on many people and taught them life lessons about love and courage. He used all that the Divine had given him for the purposes it was meant.
On the flipside of the coin, at Midnight this morning I read of the death of yet another young entertainer. This man was 28 years old and a gifted percussionist. Sadly though, he felt he had to live up to the lifestyle of a rocker boy. Between drugs, alcohol and diabetes, his body gave up.
He's left behind a long-time girlfriend, a succesful band who were also four of his closest friends and a huge international fan base...all of whom right now are holding him up as some kind of hero. Personally I see him as a selfish bastard.
My belief is that we are all created by the Great Spirit with talents and the potential to affect others in positive ways. The highest and sincerest form of praise and worship to the Holy One for those gifts is to search within ourselves, find them and use them...for good.
Those of you who know me and/or follow my writing about music know that I have a very deep love for rock music and the people who make it. It just breaks my heart that so many destructive influences have worked their way into that world to the point that artists feel required to include them in their lives and worse that some fans expect them to. Honestly I think that these guys and gals can make just as great music without alcohol, cocaine and other narcotics, along with random unprotected sex. It also makes me angry that "live hard, die young" is still a battle cry amongst rock musicians and fans. Why?
James Sullivan was just one more kid who felt he had to live the rock & roll lifestyle even if it meant that he wouldn't still be creating drum beats 30 years from now or sharing his talents with new-comers as a teacher, producer or manager. He had to prove to the fans that he could play hard night and day with no thought to his blood sugar levels or the bodily harm he caused himself when drunk or high. And the fans cheered him on. The harder he abused himself the louder they cheered.
Today they are all posting on their blogs and message boards about how sad they are and how wonderful they thought he was. But, I fear, this will be like every other young celeb who has passed in the last 5 or 10 years...a lot of hooplah for a couple of weeks and then forgotten. Oh the people who were closest to him will miss him for a long time but will even they see or understand how little he respected the gift of life he had been given?
Josh respected the gift. He did everything he could with his life knowing that he probably wouldn't live to collect social security. He was brave and faced the challenge of each new day following his doctors orders and listening to his parents to make the most of that day. Drugs were medication to be used to help him survive.
I'm not a holy roller. I don't put any merit into "being saved" or even having to believe that Jesus was anything more than a very wise man who served as a living instruction manual on how to best live life. But what I do believe is that there is a Higher Power and that it does have a plan for better living but it's up to each one of us to pray/meditate/search for the that plan within ourselves and then have the guts to live it out. Anything less is a waste of the gift. I just hope that those people who are holding "The Rev" up as some kind of role model take a step back and maybe find the Joshs in their lives and see what a real role model is.