|Photo by: Elena Prokofyeva
This Fall, I was at a wedding of a former youth group member. It was a joyous occasion and I had fun catching up on all the news. In the midst of the joy came a moment of sadness. I asked about another youth group member, Eliot.
There was something unique and beautiful about Eliot. He was funny, but not in the same way that others are. He had a great personality. He was caring, yet he was quick to point out the truth when he saw it. He was also a bit lost at times, a bit of a wandering soul. As a young college grad, I was sure that if I just took him to the latest Christian conference, he'd find God and all would be well. Real life isn't like that of course. Real ministry is messy and challenging. People are unique and their story is their own.
For years after I had moved on to a new church and a new area of the country, I would still think of Eliot. When he came to mind, I'd pray for him and hope that he'd found his way in life. I hadn't heard anything about him in about 13 years. At the wedding, I asked about him casually, wondering where he was, what he was up to. They told me he had died. Drugs, they thought, or maybe alcohol. "So sad." "He had been in rehab." They told me this as if it was something I could understand or comprehend. I nodded and agreed, "How sad," as the conversation moved on to other topics.
This news has haunted me ever since. Although it's been two and a half years since his death, I am freshly grieving the news. The uncertainty of it was the hardest part. How? Why? What happened? Recently I did some research online and found out that he had passed away at age 27. He had struggled with addiction for ten years, but he had been sober for a long stretch, with a girlfriend and a job at a California tech company. He had quickly relapsed and died of an accidental overdose. His father said in an article that his friends described him as funny, intelligent, sensitive; the one who kept them all balanced.
Where to go with this news? What is the legacy of this intelligent, funny, caring young man? His father said in the article that through this tragedy we have to "become a larger vessel. We have to embrace life with all of its joys and sorrows." I think that's just it. Some legacies may seem clouded by the way the person died or the shortness of their life. But, they are legacies nonetheless. I knew Eliot for only about four years, but he made an impression on me. He stood out as someone who cared about others and who saw the humor in life. He wanted to seek out truth and to live life to the full.
Another part of his legacy will live on in the "What ifs?" We can't go back and save him from drugs and alcohol. We can't change that part of his story now. What we do have is the present and the future. We can use his story as fuel to help us to seek out others who are struggling and to play a part in their story. We can offer the caring, sensitive presence to them that Eliot was to others. In so doing, we become a larger vessel.