Saturday morning [the day that Ian graduated] began with a jolt as the phone on my bedside table began to buzz at 7:30 AM. It felt like it didn’t stop all morning-messages and phone calls from sweet friends that were praying for my family poured in all day. Offering to attend the ceremony. Offering to bring wine later.
We walked on to NC State’s campus, and everywhere we turned happy families were taking proud pictures with their grinning, red-gowned graduates. The joy in the air was palpable—and we didn’t belong. As we walked across the brick sidewalk, I remembered Ian. I remembered driving him to work at his coffee shop the summer that we both lived at home and shared a car. He would often ask to pick up breakfast on the way, and would happily munch on his egg mcmuffin as I lectured him on the perils of fast food for twenty minutes. [I’m a big sister. It’s what we do.] I remembered Stephen and I making him Mexican food at Stephen’s campus apartment, right after I moved home from Senegal. I remembered visiting the dorm room he’d hastily cleaned up right before I arrived, and seeing a gargantuan pile of easy mac spilling out from beneath his rumpled bed.
I remembered Ian’s other accomplishments that we’d celebrated as a family. His first, fumbling piano recital. Little hands struggled to find the right keys and an exceedingly proud face beamed from the piano bench. I remembered sitting in the front row as he and his curly hair starred in Oklahoma, and each girl in the audience swooned. I thought about every play, a cappella concert, musical, soccer game, and tae-kwon-do meet. My family had always been on the front row for each kid’s accomplishment, whatever it was—and now, we were slowly walking towards Ian’s last.
I found myself in the front row once again, as administrators sat my family right in front of the graduates. A thousand curious eyes bored into the backs of our heads as Ian’s story was explained. Mom walked to the stage to receive his diploma, and the audience rose to give him a standing ovation. As if they were wide-eyed children with their noses pressed to the window looking at a terrible accident from the safety of their own cars—everybody in the room gratefully thinking how awful. I’m so glad that’s not me. I would have been thinking the same thing had roles been reversed. We then clapped as everyone else’s Ian walked across the stage one by one.
I left as quickly as I could. Ben and Michelle had insisted on coming [and true love is sitting through ANY graduation—but especially this one], and they took me to grab lunch and go to Saturday night church. We sang a song called “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” and I cried because the idea that God sent his son to die for me can never again be glazed over or trite after you’ve watched your parent’s son die. I cried thinking about heaven, grateful that Ian is there and longing to join him. I cried because death has been defeated, and the sting is only temporary. I cried because that temporary sting throbs with a dull roar and aches in every piece of me.
The gospel matters. When curly hair falls softly onto the kitchen floor, it matters that you have been loved with an everlasting love. When white blood cells flicker and falter and fade, it matters that you have been relentlessly pursued by the God of the Universe. When your hold your little brother’s swollen hand as he dies three days before your wedding, it matters that God is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
It matters that the sting is temporary