Who You’d Be Today

Yesterday marked the seven-year anniversary of the death of my best friend in high school. The thing that strikes me the most is how I am now four days away from my 25th birthday, yet Shawn, eleven days my senior, was and always will be 18. Someday (if I live that long) I will be 85, yet he will still be an energetic, slightly goofy 18 year-old.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. September 12, 2005. I was at a nearby farm getting my senior pictures taken (I had them redone a different day). The photographer and his wife were enthusiastically instructing me, when my dad’s phone rang. He left and answered it, while they continued shooting. A few minutes later he came back and told me that Shawn had collapsed on the soccer field and was rushed to the hospital. I didn’t think that much of it, as those things happen. Because we were almost done, we finished the shoot, then went home. I remember several funny things about when we got home. One was that dinner was beans and rice, which was every Monday, and which my brothers and I sometimes dreaded. The second was that me, being as fashion-inept as I am, had had my top button buttoned up during the shoot, for which my mom scolded me, and I should have known better. After we ate, we received phone calls from several people indicating that it was in fact very serious. My mother drove me to the hospital, as my dad had been up all night, ironically, at the deathbed of one of our church members.

I remember getting to the ER waiting room, and the nurse pointed us to one of the private rooms. I saw some of my friends’ mothers standing there, looking solemn. I went up to one of them, and she simply whispered, “He’s gone.” I was stunned. I didn’t go into denial. No anger. No crying. Just plain stunned silence. I joined my friends in the room, many were sobbing, and they were praying in a circle. I stuck around for maybe 45 minutes. During that time, my other best friend, Ben, who was in our circle of friends, showed up. I still remember seeing tears well up in his eyes. It took me off guard, in spite of the circumstances, as he was not extremely expressive. We then left. The drive home was very quiet. My mother is very good at recognizing how to best handle someone’s mood. When we got home, she told me I should go to bed, which I surprisingly agreed.

The next day consisted of students reminiscing, praying for his family, and just hanging out. I actually had my parents come pick me up early, where I proceeded to watch movies I had enjoyed in my childhood. There is something about returning to the “world” in which you felt secure as a child.

I met Shawn at the start of 7th grade. I was kind of a a socially awkward kid at that time, but Shawn, being his friendly self, was very good to me during that time. He fully embraced his country-living identify, and absolutely loved hunting, fishing, wearing camo, and country music. His signature song was Kenny Chesney’s She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy. He was very outgoing, and a driven student. His laugh was very hearty, and always jabbed at you for various things, which sometimes annoyed me, as all friends do from time to time. He was always great for exchanging hunting stories, and he proudly displayed posters of Ford (he eventually bought a Bronco) and Second Amendment stuff. He was remembered for these things.

There was also, unfortunately,  a darker side to the aftermath of his death. It was the frustration with people of the popular crowd, who essentially claimed him as one of their own, when in truth they had sometimes downright ridiculed his boisterous ways. One girl in particular infuriated me as she would use the memory of him as an obvious attempt to assist in her own power grab. It angered me.  It also angered me that people turned him into a sinless icon, when I as a close friend, knew that  wasn’t completely true. Yet I don’t think he would have wanted me to dwell on it.

I wonder often where he would be today. I think he wanted to be a chiropractor. Chances are he would still have that same friendly, boisterous personality. He’d be harassing me about who knows what, probably about how I was becoming a DC liberal (I’m not, for the record).

Thinking about his death also has brought some perspective. It sounds cliche, but it really does show that none of us know how long we have.  None of us would ever have expected him to die of a freak heart condition. Yet he did. It puts into perspective how short our time here is. I believe I will see him in the next life, because he appeared to understand that it is only through faith in Christ and by God’s grace that one can overcome their sins. My time here is short, and I must use it to share and live out the Gospel of Christ. And lately, my life has not been exhibiting this as it ought to.  I have been selfish, anxious, and cynical much of the time. Thank God it is by His grace that I am saved, because I would be “deep doodoo” otherwise. Remembering this sad moment in my life gives a fresh perspective on my current life. God help me become the man in Christ that I ought to be.

Shawn, you had flaws like we all have, and you were also a great friend. You believed in the saving power of Christ. Til we meet again.

The Art of the Coalition: Romney and Obama

Politics is filled with what are commonly referred to as “big tents.” That is, various groups of people who are passionate about different, sometimes seemingly contradictory, issues, become allies of convenience in support of a political party or candidate. While they have always played a role, the cruciality is increased in this election due to the exceptionally negative nature of the campaign. Both candidates have found themselves in the place of showing, essentially, why their opponent is a worse choice-“It’s either me or that guy.”

Mitt Romney is appealing to a coalition that has largely been in vogue in the Republican Party since the Reagan days: fiscal conservatives/Tea Partiers (due to anger towards the increase of spending and the national debt under Obama, and possible tax increases), social/religious conservatives (fear that Obama is expanding abortion and gay rights, as well as threatening religious liberty through the contraception mandate), and to a lesser extent, the “national security conservatives”, who support hardline stances against America’s perceived enemies, in the tradition of John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, etc. Romney’s past issues with the former two largely explains his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, is fostering a coalition that is in some ways the foil to Romney’s coalition. His coalition includes an alliance of women (through utilizing his “war on women” rhetoric, the foil to the social conservatives in Romney’s camp), minorities (better designated as those who fear they would be hurt by Romney’s economic/fiscal policy, these include blacks, Hispanics, seniors, the poor, unemployed, and arguably students/recent graduates), and a small but influential intellectual faction (those of the belief that the GOP has descended to an ant-intellectual, Bible-thumping, warmongering, and bigoted mentality that would reinstate all the worst elements of the 1950s).

If either candidate hopes to win, he must foster these coalitions, and unfortunately, rather than highlight his own strengths, and instead focus on his opponent’s weaknesses. Because while talking about voting for “the lesser of two evils” is an age-old quip in American politics, it is more pronounced in 2012, as both are perceived as incredibly weak on economics, as well as on certain social issues. As of now, based on polls and convention reception, it appears the Obama is the more effective “coalition fosterer.”