Views from the Uppermost House: These words come hard
For the past six years, this column has come easy to me. I just excuse myself every other Saturday evening and go into my office and bang it out. Takes about one cup of coffee. But this week, these words come hard.
You see, my friend Sun Fei died last week. Or, rather, he was killed. At work. Doing the most ordinary of things. Something he’d done a hundred times.
Sun was only 31.
News of the tragedy came fast. I was at work when I heard a co-worker on the phone mention his name. The context seemed odd and I turned toward her.
“He’s my friend,” I said.
“He just died,” she said.
She wasn’t being callous or insensitive; the words just spilled out.
I walked out of the office and the numbness set in. All I could see was his face, with its sudden and perpetual smile. All I could hear was his idiom-laced English, his gentle laugh. Over and over again as I slogged through the rest of the day, I found myself saying his name aloud, “Oh, Sun…” And then I would weep. I felt exhausted, leaden, as if my heart and all my arteries were full of wet cement.
My friend had an undeniable, radiant, contagious and joyous faith. When the Lord got a hold of his life many years ago, He pulled him in close and hard. Gave his life meaning and direction. His days were not always easy, but he was content. During his last week, he spoke of how incredibly happy he was and that he knew God had a plan for his life. It was something to see. To say my friend was inspiring is to say the Grand Canyon is a really big ditch. I found great comfort and happiness in knowing all this. My friend’s eternity was secure. I’d be with him again. See that twinkle in his eye again. Hear that great laugh again.
Still, I was so unutterably sad. Still, sobbing came so easily.
I was supposed to go to a meeting the evening of that terrible day, but I begged off. “I’m not coming. I just won’t be any good to you,” I wrote in an e-mail. “We’re praying,” came the fast reply.
When I got home, my wife and I were sad together. Didn’t say much. Didn’t have to. The house was very quiet. Cats asleep. Lights dim. Wood stove glowing darkly. Our son had given us a huge flat-screen TV for our 30th anniversary and I decided to try to assemble it. Didn’t matter. Just something to do. Mindless. And so I sat cross-legged on the living room floor with all the parts and a flashlight and my screwdriver and the little plastic bag of screws and the directions and then I closed my eyes and saw my friend’s face and said “Oh, Sun…” and then I just cried. Again.
And I got mad at myself. How can you just sit here and try to screw the base onto this TV? Could you possibly be doing anything more meaningless than this? How dare you. And I had no answer for myself and it took several moments before I realized that I was trying to read the instructions in Spanish.
Four screws in four holes. That’s all I had to do. Line up the holes in two pieces of plastic that had been spit out of some mold halfway around the world, insert the sterile little screws, and tighten it all down. It was easy, but I had such a desperate time. My eyes kept getting all fuzzy and milky and my hands shook and my fingers fumbled and I kept dropping the screws and just at the wrong moment one of the plastic pieces would slip and the holes would fall out of line and the universe suddenly felt askew and my hands just fell limply into my lap.
No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t hold the screwdriver and all the parts and the screws and that stupid flashlight all at the same time.
Please! I just need another set of hands.
I want my friend.