Milestones in Our Faith: Affirming Life Amid Death
Scripture: Romans 8:31-39
Hello everyone, my name is Priya. Today, I will be speaking about my faith journey, which is hard, because my life is short and my journey is very far from over. My religious beliefs are continually changing and growing. Over the past few years, my belief about God has shifted from being one that is formed by listening to others in my community or family to being one that I seek and find myself. So when asked about a “milestone” in my journey, I immediately thought of an experience I went through this past winter.
On February 6th, my grandfather passed away. When I think of my Grandfather, I think of his ability to make you feel like the most special person in the world. Whenever someone was being serious he would look at you and wink. He was full of a childlike curiosity; you could always find him with a crossword in his hand. My Grandfather’s death sent a shock into my world because he breathed life. He was fascinated with plants and his garden was a creation of calculated passion and purpose—it was like no other. In March, my family traveled to St. Paul, Minnesota for his memorial service. It was a month after his death and we were still stunned, unsure of how to proceed in the wake of this incredible loss. We gathered in the Fairmont church, which is a landmark in my family, the location of two weddings and multiple baptisms, to remember the life of my Grandfather. Fairmont is a small church, uniquely carpet so that it’s quiet and cozy; despite this, the world in those hours felt bleak—how could we be who we are without Gramps? This person who molded us all through his role as a father, and as a grandfather, and as a husband, was suddenly gone. For the next few days we cried, we told stories, and we laughed in that confusing state that is loving and missing someone.
But, as we mourn, life keeps moving and one week later I was back in Boston.
Within two weeks I was attending another funeral. Kendrick Price was a young man from Dorchester whose work ethic brought him to Buckingham Browne and Nichols, the highschool I currently attend, and later University of Michigan, where he would go on to found Big Business Network, which allowed him to give back to youth in his community through education and mentorship. Beyond Kendrick’s impressive achievements, his kindness and humor drew people to him. He was known for his smile. As Kendrick was an alum of my high school, I was there with a few students and Kendrick’s high school choir director to sing. While he was alive, I did not know Kendrick, but I did have a connection to him through his mother, who taught me sewing when I was six. Carol Price, Kendrick’s mom, is tall and regal, and, at six, I was absolutely certain she knew everything. Walking into the United House of Prayer in Dorchester that morning in March I was stunned when I saw Ms.Price; ten years later, on what she will probably remember as the worst day of her life. She still sat tall with the same regality that I remembered so clearly. But, in that moment, I could not articulate that, I mostly just felt stunned and out of place.
The sanctuary was large and crowded with the community and flooded with colored light from the windows. The service was intense and intimate and it was clear to me that an angel had died. There were speeches, songs, and poems to remember the man Kendrick Price was, his kind and charming nature, his limitless devotion to giving back to his community. For the whole two hours of the service, the joy that Kendrick brought to those he encountered was clear; people were smiling and singing, yet the grief was tangible, because Kendrick had died to young as a victim of gun violence. It was in the air, it hung on our shoulders, it grabbed at our hearts. Suddenly, I was crying. I was embarrassed, I didn’t even have a right to cry, I didn’t even know Kendrick. I was overwhelmed with emotions, sadness and anger, and I was confused; I was still reeling from the loss of my Grandfather, so I could not figure out the source or the direction of these emotions.
The close proximity of Kendrick and my Grandfather’s funeral pushed me into a place of reflection. While attending Kendrick’s funeral I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between him and my Grandfather: their benevolence, their generosity, their humor. The difference between my Gramps and Kendrick was that my Grandfather was 85 Kendrick was only 32. I felt grief from my grandfather’s funeral and I could feel the grief Kendrick’s family was experiencing over the loss of their son and cousin and friend. I missed my Grandfather deeply, but there was something different in the grief surrounding Kendrick’s death, because inequality affects grief. My Grandfather got married, and had children and grandchildren; he chased his dreams and lived to his potential. Kendrick will never have any of that. If Kendrick had been like my Grandfather, if he had been a white man, would he still be alive? If Kendrick’s home and neighborhood got the same kind of resources and attention my Grandfather’s affluent community received, would he still be alive?
I saw the unfairness in our country in an intimate way—because as a non-black American I have the privilege of choosing to think about racism— and it made me doubt the ability of my faith. The loss of our loved ones, the disregard of communities based upon race or class or background; it all felt too big, too unfair. I didn’t doubt God’s presence; my Grandfather and Kendrick were clearly gifts from God. I was just unsure of God’s power; how could the people we need the most, like my Grandfather, be gone? How could people like Kendrick die before they got to live out all their dreams?
These are big questions, and I can’t say they are all answered, but two weeks after Kendrick’s funeral I received some clarity. Later in March there was another memorial service at my school for Kendrick. When Kendrick’s family entered the service their energy radiated around their room. When they spoke about Kendrick, they said they were so proud of the man he was and they were going to look to God for support. While it may seem unfair that we lose people we love deeply, people who we think we cannot live without, this is not something God has done to us. God shows us, through people like my Grandfather and Kendrick that love and joy and hope are present in the world, even when things seem bad. What happened to Kendrick and what happens to young, black men all over the U.S. is unfair, but it is not God’s doing or lack of doing. We cannot blame God for the injustice in our world; we cannot ask God to fix these wrongs. Instead, we can look to them for love and support. "Nothing will separate us from the love of God: neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation"