I’ve been thinking for a while about how I want to start this blog. Introductions have always been hard for me. I always want to skip the awkward parts of conversation where we talk about the weather and school and mutual friends. Bring me straight to the part where we tell each other how we’re really feeling. Let’s spill our guts.
Six months ago my friend died.
It was sudden in the way that any 21-year-old’s death is sudden, but it was also slow, slow in the same way that my great-grandfather’s death – which sputtered out over a period of years – was slow. One morning she was fine, but she had an aneurysm by the afternoon. Within a few weeks she was dead.
My friend’s name was Morghan, Morghan Jex. She had that kind of quick and spunky name that rolled and clicked over your tongue and felt like it should be attached to some pop country star. Which was fitting, as Morghan hailed from the (not so) great state of Texas.
I could write you a book about Morghan, or I could write you a sentence. In a sense you could say I knew her well. Heck, I knew her for a large percentage of her life. In another sense you could say I barely knew her at all, I barely got started.
It’s funny how death magnifies things. Small memories and flashes of moments seem monumental. Minute exchanges swell to become unforgettable.
I remember ice skating with Morghan, if you could call clinging to the fiberglass wall and being towed over the ice by our more talented friends “ice skating.” I remember when I was driving with her and raced the car next to me as a joke. She didn’t think it was funny and vowed never to drive with me again. She never did. I remember sneaking out at night with her to perform some prank, which we executed so well that we rewarded ourselves with a little late-night McDonald’s. I remember how she had the coolest pants. I remember how she decorated her room. I remember the first time that I heard her name and the last time I said goodbye to her.
But I’m also overwhelmed by how much I forget. I forget how she liked her coffee (or even if she liked coffee). I forget what her favorite class was. I can’t remember studying with her or hanging out in her room, although I am sure I must have. In her absence, these breaks in memory feel like a sin against her. Lack of remembrance feels like a lack of love.
Morghan’s death hit me hard, but it came at the beginning of my final semester of college. I couldn’t deal with it, so I didn’t. By the time this summer came around I didn’t view Morghan’s death as something that I still needed to get over. I figured that time had dealt with it.
But the other day I encountered death again and I finally had to deal with it.
I didn’t know that the world had changed when I woke up in the morning, but when I went to the window I saw the car. Or rather, I saw the shattered and burnt shell of a car. Do you know that feeling you get when you wake up and there’s snow outside? You may know that your eyes are working fine and you aren’t actually being deceived, but you still can’t believe it’s real for a minute. You can’t reconcile the image you remember with the reality before you. It was kind of like that. The world had shifted and I wasn’t ready for it.
In that moment my ears finally registered the sound that had formerly been in the background and I heard the sirens. Within minutes I heard the story: in the middle of the night two teens had been speeding down Prolitarskaya Street. The driver was intoxicated, his passenger – a 16-year-old girl – was not. They were signaled by a police car to pull over. They didn’t pull over. They attempted to speed away, but they didn’t make it far before they hit another car head-on. Both drivers survived with only mild injuries. Both cars were totaled. The girl was trapped and burned to death on the street outside the church.
It’s impossible to describe the horror of something like that; you can only really describe the aftermath. My aftermath was one plagued by guilt.
I kept asking myself questions: Did I know the girl? Did she know me? Had she come to our events? As she was dying, did she see the Catholic Church on the sidewalk next to her and remember good times? Did she think of Christ, Mary, or the saints? Did she pray? Is she in heaven now? Did I help get her there? Did I fail to help get her there?
As I thought of this girl, I was struck by the agonizing truth: we can’t get to all the people in Magadan. We can’t ensure that we will enter fully into people’s lives. We can’t promise to be there for all their heartaches. We aren’t there for their lives; we don’t see them to their deaths.
All I can give these people is moments in the same way that all I could give Morghan was moments. When we think of each other we can remember flashes of memory and moments shared, but we won’t remember all of it and there won’t be that much to remember anyway. I’m giving these people two months, but they have a lifetime to go. Maybe that lifetime is a short as 16 or 21 years, but maybe it’s more. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is what I’m willing to give them.
If all I’m giving in two months is myself, then death is a tragedy because I will end and the person I am giving to will end and then it’s all over.
But if all I give in two months is Christ, then I’m giving everything and death is stripped of its tragic façade.
“The thought of death will help you to grow in the virtue of charity, for it may be that particular instant in which you are together with one person or another is the last one…They, or you, or I, could be gone at any moment."
- St. Josemaría Escrivá, Furrow, 895
The thought of death should make me grow in charity and form my perspective. I don’t need to look back on moments with Morghan or moments spent with these people in Russia and stress about whether I’ve given enough. As long as I’ve given Christ, I’ve given them everything.
I can’t walk with these people for a lifetime, I can’t transcend death, and I can’t be their everything…but Christ sure as heck can. In the end, I shouldn’t care if these people who I love so dearly remember me, I just hope they remember Christ. I don’t want them to reminisce over memories of past time spent with me, I just hope they make Christ their present and their future. These two months are not my mission; it’s Christ’s. This life is not my mission; it’s Christ’s.
Death hurts, but a life given over to Christ is never a tragedy. I have loved Morghan and I have loved the people of Magadan, but I hope that, in the end, each and every one of the people I have encountered loves Jesus more than they love me. If I bring these people to Christ, death ends up looking pretty pathetic. If we are united in love by the One who has conquered death, than there is no need to be afraid.
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death, its jealousy as enduring as the grave.
- Song of Songs 8:6
In Christ’s Love,
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team