“This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly . . .” so said the priest the day he handed the baptismal candle to the parents.
These particular parents were the kind who took that admonition to heart. They were there for that child. It was evident in his demeanor and his caring about others. His friends would say not that he was given a light, but that he was that light.
Then one Saturday night, the unthinkable. Five days shy of his sixteenth birthday, on a lonely stretch of country road, he and three friends drove headlong into the place where the margin of error is zero.
The pickup flipped once, then twice, and when it finally came to rest, his flame had left this world. In overflowing tears a community grieved, for this child was a likeable child, this child was one of those “low maintenance” ones—the kind that are just fun to be around, this child was truly a light to his family and to his peers. And now his light had been extinguished.
Like most kids his age, this young man’s life had held so much promise. He was going to play second base next year for the baseball team. He was going to get a car for his birthday. He was going to go back to a wedding dance that night and party with his myriad of friends. But in one heart-wrenching instant the flame of his life, of his potential, was snuffed out leaving in its absence only grief, pain, and emptiness.
On the way to the wake service my dad heard the “inspirational story” of a family of five who had all survived a harrowing van rollover with nary a scratch. The radio announcer said, “They were lucky to have their guardian angels in that van that day.” Now most of the time, he would have said, “Yeah, they were.” Instead my dad, the baseball coach, who had just watched his future second baseman lift up from second base in a Lifestar helicopter only to return in a coffin, said, “I just kept thinking where were the angels that night? Where were this child’s angels?”
That question stuck in my mind. As that pickup flipped once, bounced into the air, and dislodged him from his seat—where were the angels at that moment? When the pickup again sailed through the air on its second pass over—why did the angels hang back? Why didn’t they rush in to hold this boy, this light, inside the cab? Why did they allow him to be thrown so that his bright, shining flame would burn no more? Why?
At the funeral the same priest who had first presented that light to the parents those few short years before stood before us again with this explanation. “God allowed his own Son to be tried, wrongly convicted, sentenced to death, hung on a cross, and crucified. He could’ve saved Him, but if He had, the suffering of this world would still extend to the next. At times like this we don’t understand why, but we have to understand that ‘why’ backward means ‘Your Holy Will.’”
I had never had cause to think about this scene before—the one with Christ hanging from the cross while the angels hung by and watched. However, later putting the two pieces together, I realized where the angels were. It wasn’t that they weren’t there. They were simply on the other side of that temple curtain—the one that split down the middle at the moment of Christ’s death.
And from that side, they were waiting with open arms to receive and comfort the light that had been sent to this earth for a short time, now destined to return to God’s loving embrace.
Where were the angels that evening as the pickup flipped in the air? They weren’t far—they just didn’t have the mission we would’ve liked for them to have that day. Yes, bad things happen, and we don’t always understand. However, our mission is not to understand—our mission is to believe that in God’s plan, not in ours, the angels are always exactly where they are supposed to be.