June 4, 1985 - Sept. 29, 2007
Robert died last Saturday, in an automobile collision. As you see, he was very young - he just recently celebrated his 22nd birthday. His funeral was this Thursday. I attended; and served as videographer, as a favor to his family.
One of the more profound moments of the service came during the homily, when the young minister pointed to our baptismal font - a gleaming structure of white Italian marble - and said, "Robert was baptized 21 years ago today in this baptismal font. As he was united with Christ at the beginning of his life, he now joins Christ at the end of his life."
I only met Robert once. The occasion was my first time to assist at the Vacation Bible School in Watonga, four years ago. Robert needed a ride, and I volunteered. Robert had assisted at the VBS at least once before.
During our trip, Robert shared what I might expect. His favorite part was playing and interacting with the children. He also prepared me for the scheduled sweat lodge. Although he personally did not have a profound mystical experience the times he went, he knew others who had. And, even though he did not have a "mountain-top" experience, he valued the opportunity.
Robert also shared his love of multi-user on-line role-playing games (MUDs). There, he had discovered a community with whom he could easily relate. People on-line could not see how profoundly over-weight was, and thus could not judge him based on his physical appearance.
I was not so charitable. I didn't judge him because of his weight, but because his most valued community was "virtual". Later, during the VBS, I judged him because he seemed to only do the minimum required. If you asked him to perform a task, he'd do that one thing, then sit back down. I didn't even see him play with the children, compared to the other volunteers his age.
I was aware of the irony and unfairness of my judgment, even then. Most of my community was "virtual" in nature, though I could claim a valued handful of folks I could see and touch. And, in my less charitable moments, I perceive myself as one of those "only do the minimum required" types.
I suppose this is a natural response at a funeral, to repent of old opinions, or ways you may have hurt another. I trust Robert never was aware of my judgment; when I visited with him, I strove to sound interested, and he was very open and sharing.
Robert was no angel; he had his share of problems. Twenty-one and working at Braum's (where his mother also works). Still, so far as I know, profoundly overweight. He's had minor problems with the law. That trip to Watonga four years ago was primarily to fulfill a community service sentence; he never went again.
One got the impression that he had few flesh-and-blood friends. Not a negative (again, the same can be said of me), but possibly unhealthy.
The minister didn't gloss over these challenges. He mentioned how Robert appeared to be making positive strides with furthering his education and controlling his weight. He said one of the profound tragedies of Robert's death at a young age was that we would not see what sort of person he would become as he improved in these areas.
I wonder if others go to funerals and think of Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn, eaves-dropping on their own funeral? I certainly did.
I set up the video camera in the choir loft, and thus had a view of the whole church. With the exception of a open half-pew here and there, the church was full. I was later told there were 227 in attendance.
I couldn't help but wonder if an equal number of people would come to my funeral. Although many were present to show support for his parents, I imagine a fair number represented the people whose lives Robert had touched.
Can I claim to have touched so many people in a positive way? Can I claim to have served to represent the light of Christ to people all around the world, as Robert did in his MUD activity?
One more thing about that "virtual" world of friends. It represented people all over our actual globe. One of the main on-line groups Robert was involved with sent flowers to his mother. There is an on-line guest book which runs to five pages of condolences and remembrances, over half of which are from his MUD world.
May I have the grace to touch an equal number of lives.