09.10.2020 – When Death Comes Near

This week’s edition comes a day early for reasons that will be apparent after you have read the post. – BT

The words of two young men.  They are near the same age, one 29 and the other 31. Both are loved by their families and friends. Both have walked deep into the cold shadow of death.  Both speak of what they have seen.  There are differences between the two young men, as well.  Elliot, 31, a Brit, has lived a privileged life, is articulate and successful. He has traveled the world. Jacob, 29, an American, has, by his own reckoning, struggled to succeed. His words do not flow smoothly.  His world is small, limited by the circumstance of birth and race and choices he has made.  Elliot is white. Jacob is black.

Elliot will die soon, perhaps within a few weeks. Jacob will live, perhaps, though, as a paraplegic.

Most of us know a little about Jacob Blake, the 29-year old American who was shot in the back during an altercation with the police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  I first heard about Elliot Dallen when I read his eloquent essay in the Guardian a couple of days ago. At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here’s what I want to pass on.  I have been thinking about it ever since.

I encourage you to stop now and read Elliot Dallen’s piece.  1,800 words; it won’t take long. But you may pause to think for much longer than it takes to read what he writes.

Jacob Blake’s words recorded in a video are widely available.  Just one minute – the heart of the message is this:  I just want to say, man, to all the young cats out there, and even the older ones older than me, it’s a lot more life to live out here, man. Your life and not only just your life, your legs, something that you need to move around and move forward in life, can be taken from you like this, man. Please, I’m telling you, change y’all lives out there. We can stick together, make some money, make everything easier for our people because there’s so much time that’s been wasted.

“Please, I’m telling you, change y’all lives out there. We can stick together, make some money, make everything easier for our people because there’s so much time that’s been wasted.”

Elliot Dallen received his cancer diagnosis two years ago.  His prognosis was never good, though he has been given more time than was anticipated at the time of diagnosis.  But now death is in sight, and he knows it well.  He’s been thinking about what is important, what he would like his friends and family to remember.  Five things, he says: 1) the importance of gratitude; 2) a life, if lived well, is long enough; 3) let yourself be vulnerable and connect to others; 4) do something for others; 5) protect the planet.

Elliot’s writing is articulate and moving. Jacob’s words are raw and jarring.

I want to listen to these two young men – as different and as similar as they are. I don’t want my life experiences, my theological or political or philosophical convictions to get in the way of hearing what they are saying.  What are Elliot and Jacob saying to me?  What might I say to them?

I am not young, and my closest brush with death was nearly 18 years ago.  Unlike Elliot Dallen, I survived my encounter with cancer.  Unlike Jacob Blake, the scar from a long ago surgery has faded and the pain is long gone.

Jacob Blake tells us to change our lives, to stick together, make some money, make things easier for others. He says we’ve been wasting time.

Elliot Dallen has discovered five things to value most: gratitude, life, vulnerability and connections, giving to others, and the planet on which we live.

I ponder these words of two young men. I need not critique or detract from them.  They are words of fellow humans.

What might you say after listening to Jacob and reading Elliot and then sitting for a while as their words to speak to you?

I have nothing to add or to subtract from their words, for they are their words, and I find myself comforted and challenged by them.  I’m not sure exactly what I would say to either of them, but I would affirm what they say and thank them for saying it. Maybe I would tell them a little bit about my story.  I know I would want to say something about spiritual things, about my experience with the God who created us in love, redeemed us in love, and sustains us in love.  I would say something about that love which is better than life and more powerful than death.

What might you say to Jacob and Elliot?  I’d love to hear. Anonymously or not – by permission – I might share some of what you write. Reply to this email/use the response form to let me know.

News of Elliot Dallen’s death arrived shortly after this was written.  – BT