Monday, November 21, 2011

Townsman of a Stiller Town.

To-day the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at the threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

"To An Athlete Dying Young," by A.E. Housman

I knew Garrett Uekmann in much the same way that most people in Little Rock did: as a football and basketball player at Catholic High School here and later as a tight end for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  And that's OK.  He was just a kid and there was not much reason for people other than his friends, teachers and family to know him much beyond the limited context of the honors he achieved on the playing field.  However, I can say this.  I never heard the single bad word uttered about him.  And that's not true of everybody either at Fayetteville or Catholic High.

He was in his sophomore year in college, well on the path of formation to someone other than just an athlete, when he was found dead in his room last Sunday morning.  The mind reels.  How can this be?  19 years old.  An elite DI athlete, strong as 3 men.  And from all accounts he just "up and died" as the old folks say.  I cannot possibly imagine what his parents are going through right now.  Cannot possibly imagine.

Years ago, I attended a funeral service for a man who died in an accident.  Jim's hobby was remodeling houses.  He accidentally got across a hot wire in an attic one day.  And that was that. 
The homilist at his funeral Mass was Andrew McDonald, the Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock at that time.  He told a story from early in his ministry when he was confronted by another tragic loss of life that was equally unfathomable.  I paraphrase.  But not by much. 

"There was a young couple in my first parish church.  Devout.  Strong in their faith.  Their only child had just drowned in the lake.  They came to see me not only for solace but they wanted answers.  They wanted to know how something as unspeakable as this could have happened to a couple as devout as they?

All of my studies, all of my training at seminary and in graduate school did not provide me with an answer.  Neither did my own faith in God.  So I told them, 'As God is my witness, I do not know why these things happen.'"

Bishop McDonald paused for a moment.

"I stand here today as your Bishop," he said. "And as God is my witness I still do not know why these things happen."

And perhaps that is still the only answer. 

Scant solace for his thunderstruck friends and devastated family, to be sure.

But perhaps the only answer.

Rest in peace, you good boy who had no need of rest so soon.  Rest in peace.

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