Dark gray, 1998 Mercury Mystique. It’s been a good car.
It used to be my younger brother Bryan’s car, but it became mine about a week after he died. It seemed fitting that I should take over the payments and drive it as my primary car. I think of him whenever I drive it, to this day, more than five years past his burial.
I had walked past this car that night that he died, while passing through the parking lot, on the way to the front door of his apartment. Bryan had failed to show up for an event at church that evening, which was odd, since he was the youth pastor, and was in charge of the event. I received a call asking me to go see that he was okay, since I only lived a handful of blocks away from him. He wasn’t answering his phone, so I hopped into my car, praying, yet sure that he was fine.
He and I had just returned that afternoon from a Christian Education seminar up near Los Angeles – a three day affair that focused on Sunday School programs. We drove up from San Diego together (in his car), went to the same seminar sessions, shared a hotel room, ate together. This was not unusual – there normally wasn’t a day that went by that we didn’t interact. We grew up together, worked at the same family business together, went to church together, and even lived together well after I was married and had a family of my own. Bryan stayed in an extra room in our town home until approximately a year before he died, when he was finally able to get an apartment of his own.
Attending the Christian Education seminar was a struggle for me. I hadn’t wanted to go, even though I was a Sunday School teacher, and theoretically stood to benefit from the exposure to new materials. At that time, I had a hard time stomaching highly-polished Christianity, finding it difficult to see anything genuine about it.
Not so for Bryan – he could find God in any setting.
We drove back to San Diego after those three days, chatting the whole time as we usually did, and he dropped me off at my house. It was three in the afternoon. He called fifteen minutes later, to make sure I had gotten into the house ok. I told him I was fine, I’d see him the next day at church, and that was that. I settled in for the evening.
But here I was, at 9:30 the same night, driving over to his apartment to check up on him. We had stayed up late every night during the conference, talking, joking around. I knew I’d simply find him asleep on his couch, his phone ringer off.
Walking past his car, to the front door of his apartment, I tried the doorknob. The door was unlocked, so I went right in. Four minutes later, I was hanging up the phone, after calling 911. I walked trembling back into Bryan’s bedroom, just to make sure I hadn’t been mistaken, or it hadn’t been a dream. Nope, there he was, face down on his bed, very much gone.
Turns out a seizure had left him unconscious where he lay, face down into the mattress, where he suffocated, dead at 26 years old.
An hour later, after a flurry of activity, I stood out in the parking lot, next to Bryans’ car, with family members and church family near me, the police inside with Bryan, waiting for the medical examiner. Of course, I wrestled with the fact that I had been with him practically every minute of the past three days – he had to go and have a seizure right after getting home, alone, probably within minutes of calling to make sure I had gotten into my house ok. It was hard not to beat myself up over not being able to be there to protect him, like a good big brother.
I sit here now, looking out the window at Bryan’s car, which now, these five years later, is paid off and mine. It has nearly 130,000 miles on it, and it has been a good car. It is in good shape, and doesn’t cost much to insure. There’s no reason not to keep it, really. But after much consideration, I think it’s time to trade it in on something else.
The assumption has always been that I keep the car to honor Bryan. Of late, I imagine what Bryan himself would say if we had the chance to speak on it. That led my mind to dwell on the accepted hope of the church – that great day of reunion, when we can be with our deceased loved ones again. It is held out as the pinnacle, going to Heaven, seeing the Lord, and being reunited with those our hearts long to see again. What a wonderful day that will be! To hug on the neck of a departed parent, a beloved grandparent, or a brother that died alone on his bed in his apartment.
I imagine what it would be like to see Bryan again. To ask him about that day, about what happened after he died, where he went, who he saw…did he see Jesus right away, or was an angel there to meet him? Was he there in the room watching as I turned on his bedroom light and saw his body there on the bed? Did he watch as I ran to him and shook him, calling his name in panic? Or as I ran for the phone? Did he later come out and sit on the trunk of his car while we all huddled together in the parking lot, reeling?
And then, for perhaps the first time, my mind goes past the future reunion. OK, so I reunite with Bryan and my other departed loved ones. We sit around catching up, looking back over the ground we had all traveled to get to that day. What then? What is there for us to do after that blessed day? Does the Bible talk about ‘what comes next’ at all? It seems only logical that events would progress past the stage of reunion.
The Word speaks at length about the Kingdom of God – a kingdom in which we all will play a part, Bryan included.
I make a mental list of traditional kingdom elements, starting with the top. You can’t have a kingdom without a King, Whose identity is obvious. You need a realm – the new heaven and Earth. You need a capital city – the New Jerusalem. You need a large number of subjects, and a subset of those people who are in positions of authority. You need a religion, a set of laws, an economy of some sort, and systems of defense and protection. There needs to be artists and soldiers, judges and bakers, priests and farmers, blacksmiths and scientists, entertainers and lawyers…who will fulfill these roles in God’s kingdom?
Bryan had many strengths, and I’m convinced God has a role in mind for him in His kingdom, just as I’m sure He has something in mind for each of us – something that will make our hearts sing for joy, something that we will be doing well into eternity. A teacher, a painter, an architect, an explorer, a dancer, a gardener…whatever it is, it will literally be what we’ve been created to do, and our joy will be overflowing.
I picture Bryan with a huge smile on his face, surrounded by children, teaching them about the King, and how to worship, waving banners and dancing with all of their strength before their God and King.
I’m apt to think that Bryan would be more interested on that day in what God was implementing, and Bryan’s role in it, rather than in catching up on old times, or rehashing the details surrounding his death. And I doubt seriously that the subject of his car will come up at all. As blessed as that great day of reunion is like to be, I tend to think that the eons to follow will prove to be exponentially greater, and perhaps that is where our true hope should lie – in loving and serving God in His wonderful, eternal kingdom, surrounded by those that are doing the same.
So I glance out the window again, mentally stamping the words “Trade In” on that faithful Mercury and I shrug my shoulders. Still, it would be nice to continue to honor Bryan in my choice of car.