I graduated from Luther College, which is a private, liberal arts school nestled in the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa, and happens to be the community in which I now live. Due to its size and nature, Luther is a family. Our family has been rocked this summer by the loss of two of our classmates - one from a tragic car accident; the other after a brave battle with cancer and complications from a bone marrow transplant.
I wasn't closely in touch with either of them, but social media and other circumstances kept us loosely connected. And while I couldn't tell you lots of details about their lives 25 years after graduating from college, memories of who they were and the contributions they made are something I carry with me. Krista was a nonconformist who was beautiful, sensitive and brilliant. She met and married her soulmate during college and his poignant posts on Facebook talking about their family and the amazing things she did both personally and professionally are both gratifying and heartbreaking. Andrew was larger than life - he had charisma for miles and a heart as big as his smile. He did so many things for others and it's hard to come to terms with the idea that love, prayers and hope couldn't heal him and return him to his family to live to see old age. He was the unofficial mayor of every community he ever joined.
There was a big annual festival in town this past weekend, so I had the chance to run into many of our classmates. We shared stronger hugs and sad, knowing smiles. We said, "I love you." We were grateful for beautiful weather and a sense of community. We celebrated life, acknowledging how precious it is.
It made me think of the resurrection story from Matthew, and the message from the angel to the women at the tomb when they found Jesus' body missing. "He is not here; he has risen, just as he said."
I love that story for lots of different reasons, not the least of which that the men were all hiding from the authorities while the women had the chutzpah to venture out and treat the body at the gravesite. But I also love that the message, "He is not here" isn't meant to inspire sadness. It's an announcement of victory - that life now has power over the finality of death.
Mourning is a funny thing. It's a lot like laughing through tears. Our hearts grieve for what is lost, but they smile when we reflect upon and remember the significance those who have left us have left us with. We still ache, but memories, like a balm, ease the sting.
I thought of Krista and Andrew as I watched people last weekend sing, dance and play during the beautiful summer days and the clear summer nights. They would have loved the celebration of community. They are not in dark places filled with suffering and grief. They were here. And they will continue visiting anywhere they left their imprints of life and love.
My prayer is that we continue to keep our eyes and hearts open to remember to look for them.