Speaking into the Silence of Grief: For Aaron
When the grief is deep, sometimes nothing will speak but silence. And, for the Asbury Theological Seminary community, there has been deep grief indeed. Though we do not mourn as those who have no hope, we have certainly mourned in these weeks after Easter weekend. We have doggedly walked out our theology and rejoiced in the resurrection, because that is the promise and the hope to which we turn when tragedy happens.
On Easter weekend, several of our students were involved in a devastating auto accident. Two of them were gravely injured, and one of them – our brother, Aaron Nickerson – walked into the arms of Jesus that day. There have been many tears of hopeful anticipation, knowing that he is alive and seeing our Lord and Savior face to face. But, there have also been many tears of those crying out in anguish at the painful separation we feel when our loved ones are not physically present with us in a tangible way. There have been many encouraging and strengthening words in our community, but there has also been deep silence as we all process our grief in our hearts.
As grief gives way to love and hope, some words have come forward that are particularly profound – healing even. And here, we share those words with the greater community. Because, we must love and walk out our faith publicly. The world needs to see the real pain thrust up against the real hope we have in Jesus. We do not refuse to honor our hurt, grief, or pain. We embrace the pain, because we know that is where Jesus meets us. How can we trade mourning for joy if we will not acknowledge the mourning?
Our grief strikes fresh this week, as we all walk joyfully, yet soberly, toward graduation weekend. We will be conferring a posthumous degree for Aaron. And, he is not the only one this May who will be graduating from heaven. Perhaps now is God’s perfect time to publish these words from our dear friend, Jerimy Spencer, as he works through his thoughts and feelings in prayer toward the One Who is our HOPE.
We were leaving the beach still full of people sunbathing, swimming, and free diving, while others were just celebrating the weekend when I noticed a small baby bird with green and yellow plumage in the shadow of a tree, resting at its roots. I had to pause while all the commotion carried on around me, others unaware of the fallen beauty this Easter Sunday. I wanted to call attention to it but fell silent.
Less than 24 hours earlier I learned of the tragic death of my friend Aaron Nickerson, whom I first met while helping to lead a small men’s group that he was a part of during his first year at seminary. While most of the world was caught up in celebrating Easter weekend, our seminary family was forced to pause and mourn. As I thought on that fledgling life by the tree, a gentle nudge reminded me of Christ’s words, “If not a single sparrow falls without God’s knowing, and even the very hairs on your head are numbered, do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Even though I stand at a distance, I have caught a glimpse of the Father’s care through our seminary family who’s shouts have echoed like the final scene from Dances with Wolves as Lieutenant John Dunbar’s friend proclaimed loudly, “Dances With Wolves. I am Wind in His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”
The morning after Easter I sat on a rock wall while a gentle low tide mourned below my feet in a way that seemed to affirm the collective heart of Asbury. As the sun slowly peaked behind the horizon I marveled at the fierce size and power of the sun, which could swallow our earth a million times over, as it sent a gentle path of light across the water straight towards me, just wide enough for a single soul to walk on.
The light dimmed behind a cloud long enough for me to witness a small sea turtle close to the shore break, making his way to where the light had been. Sea turtles are awkward on land, but in water they are so graceful. Aaron was a little awkward, but in spirit gentle, present, caring, and graceful. The clouds gave way, and the young sea turtle disappeared in the small path of light now dancing across the water once more.
Though I am presently absent from my seminary family, I am shouting with you, “Aaron Nickerson, do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”
Even as poorly as I write here, now grieving at Aaron’s graduation, I end with words far more beautiful and comforting than my own; they are from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle:
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”