“I want the burger king onion rings”, she said. “The sonic ones are not as good as the burger king ones; they are too hard.” I said you got it! So we said, tomorrow it’s a deal then; we will bring lunch. Do you want a shake too, we asked her? She said, “no, I am kinda lactose intolerant with all of the medicine they are giving me.” “I will take a grape slush though.” Deal!, I exclaimed. So tomorrow I am spending a portion of my memorial day going to burger king and to sonic and to the VA hospital. See, my friend is dying. And today it is Pentecost and all of it is just mashed together, like two crashing cars at a dangerous intersection.
I went to church, listened to a sermon on Pentecost, sung songs about the great miracle that it was, and went to the VA hospital and visited my dying friend who is a veteran of the Iraq War and all of about 30 years old. I wish for her the same kind of miracle that sent flames above the gathered ones heads on the day of Pentecost and allowed them to speak in languages they had never spoken in, but it looks as though it will not happen. She was in the Iraq war, helping soldiers who suffered burns from roadside bombs. Day in and day out she helped them without the thought of what would happen to her someday. Well, someday is here, and it does not look miraculous for her or for many other veterans who breathed in the toxic air of death and burns while caring for those wounded and dying soldiers.
It is hard to be holy, hard to be other worldly, as the two events of Pentecost and Memorial Day crash together like two high speeding cars. The miracle that was and the miracle that won’t be. The bright future of the new church and Pentecost and the painful slow death of my friend. She asks her minister friend who I am with on this day and is just phenomenal in helping to build a holy bridge to green pastures, “why is God mad at me?” She asked me today about my own pain. It felt like a toothache compared to what she was going through. And the crash of the day the Lord has made, Pentecost, tongue speaking, fireball Sunday, and Memorial day all melted into one big screeching halt.
There are all kinds of unanswered questions. Ones about the Pentecost are quite surfacy on this day. We read and accept that some crazy experience happened and that is it, and we are glad, and we accept it. The ones where the balance of life and death, of fear and pain, of my friends upcoming death, are hole-hearted, stabbing, soul drenching, and they remain unanswerable. We listened as a church member friend stopped by and got her to repeat a prayer after him that made no more sense to my friend than the man in the moon but apparently helped him to feel better about the unanswerable holy and soothed his conscious in his attempts to secure her salvation. She said the words in order to get the man to leave. But she never heard the words. And she still wonders why the wrath of the eternal God rests on her shoulders, like that fire of all those years ago, accept this is no gift and this is no celebration. Another car wreck at that dangerous intersection of spirit and life; of death and the unanswered questions.
Memorial day now means something altogether different for me. It’s one thing to see the flag and feel really proud of those who have died giving their lives for our freedom. It is quite another to walk into a hospital room and watch it as it slowly happens, more slowly than she was ever led to believe, more painfully, more courageously, more sadly. A crash. A calamity that is only answered by one hope above all others: “I go to prepare a place for you.” “In my fathers house, there are many mansions.” “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.” Another collision. Of life. Of death. Of sacrifice. Of onion rings. Of bad ones and good ones. Of a day when there will be no more suffering.