There are better things ahead than any we leave behind. – C.S. Lewis
Tonight I was invited to Shawn’s graduation ceremony (or what would have been his celebration) at Northwestern College. The spring before he died he went back to school to study psychology as a compliment to his law enforcement degree. I remember when he started this goal we thought it would take forever to reach graduation.
Since his death, I have redefined what we used to think “forever” meant. Forever now refers to the space and time after death. For me, nothing on this earth can ever again hold the classification of "forever". I now know this life is temporary in addition to everything that comes with it including new clothes, old clothes, hair cuts, degrees, holidays, careers, household chores, and so goes the list. I do not write this to be negative in regards to striving for our dreams and aspirations. Maybe just the opposite; it is unbelievably vital to work towards our desires and ambitions with our best energy because the moment directly in front of us is our only guarantee.
Attending the graduation ceremony without Shawn in attendance was a struggle. It would only be normal for me to want him there in cap and gown. At the same time, I was glad I attended to witness the hard work and achievements of his classmates. I felt a sense of closure and accomplishment to be present in honor of Shawn.
On the stage of the auditorium was a dedicated bouquet of flowers arranged with white daisies and white roses. Attached in the middle of the display hung a Class of 2006 tassel. I was so proud to hold this decoration. His class gifted me with the flowers in memory of Shawn, which I plan to bring to the gravesite on Christmas Eve. Their thougthfulness gave me great comfort for coming.
One of the student commencement speakers spoke of how today was “more than just an ordinary day.” She pointed out that many of the students in Shawn’s group had gone back to school after having a family, a job and possibly many years out of the education system. It is a challenge to hold so many responsibilities together and earn a degree within this balancing act. Various times throughout her speech she referenced the idea that today was “more than just an ordinary day.” I was enthralled by her message and how fitting it sounded. I can remember Shawn going back to school and the organization it took to complete coursework while juggling two babies, a wife, a job, finishing an unfinished basement through self-teaching or trial and error all while trying to get more than four hours of sleep a night. Yes, to make it to graduation day is definitely more than just an ordinary day, it is an admirable achievement. Yes, he should have been there to graduate with his class. Either way, I am proud of him.
The Class Verse written inside the program was from Isaiah 42:16. It read, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.”
I read the verse over and over while waiting for the ceremony to begin. It puzzles me that Shawn’s life and death parallels my life in such a way that its significance serves to be something like a message-in-a-bottle for me. I sat quietly waiting for the song of Pomp and Circumstance to play its noble fanfare and could only marvel at the wonder of this night. The class verse was selected as a theme for Shawn and his classmates while for me it spoke directly with inspiration, like a perfect counterpart for my life, encouraging me that darkness will be turned into light, that rough places will be made level and that all of my paths will be guided.
As a congregation we sang the Class Song, “In Christ Alone”. I could only sing the first two verses before tears welled up inside of me getting stuck in my throat. “No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me; From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.” Eyes closed, here is another match for me, another reason why I needed to come to the graduation ceremony of my husband who had died. I needed to hear hundred’s of people sing in confidence, “No fear in death – here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” This was my husband’s anthem and now with more fervor it is mine.
The best part of my night was the quaint reception after the service. I was able to meet many of Shawn’s classmates. I loved hearing of their connections to him. The last professor he had at the time of the accident made her way through the crowded group to introduce herself to me. She offered beautiful insight for my heart that still grieves and misses Shawn. She accurately assumed that as many may think the year of grieiving is coming to an end, she supposes in all reality it is only just beginning. She also spoke of the night Shawn was killed and shared with me that when she discovered what had happened, she thought to herself, “The world should stand still. This is a time when the world should stop, even if for just a few minutes, the world should completely stop, because this incident is so incredibly far from fair.”
My world did stop. At least the one I knew and loved. Yet, I will not end my story there. The keynote commencement speaker emphasized to the class of 2006, that when a door closes it doesn’t equate failure. I am starting to comprehend the idea that a major door to my life closed the night Shawn died. At the same time, undeniably, Shawn’s life mirrors the themes I must continue to live by. God will make darkness light. This message followed Shawn throughout his life. I have no reason to doubt it for my own.