"Was that your son?," I asked. He nodded. "I'm so sorry," I said. "That was my wife."
The fresh grave had borne a temporary marker with the name Scott Abel, and the dates 1984-2011. When I chose the adjoining plot for Barbara, I wondered if I would ever know the story behind this premature death. But fate operates in peculiar ways, and it was sometime in February when I found out the answer. A former student came to play at our church, and she asked me afterward if it was my wife who had been buried next to her old friend. They had grown up together, she said; her father being a Baylor faculty member, she was a lifelong Waco resident. Scott was killed in a traffic accident last fall. It was devastating. Of course Barbara's grave now had a temporary marker too, so she had noticed the proximity.
Then last Sunday I noticed the dedication of one of the Easter lilies at church. Given by the family of one of the deans at Baylor, it simply read "In memory of Scott Abel and Barbara Wallace." Scott had been a Baylor student as well.
Now I shook hands with his father, and as we both fought back tears I mused about the fibers that connect all of our lives in often invisible ways. Death, of course, is seen as the ultimate dividing line, but while it severs some connections, it is just as likely to bring out and reinforce others. Barbara and I never met Scott Abel in life, and except for this strange coincidence (there were hundreds of other empty spots in the cemetery I could have chosen), I would probably never have known who he was. Death has now revealed two connections that already existed, and today it opened up a new one.
Life, as always, offers mixed messages. As though to reinforce what I wrote on Saturday about the futility of looking for a religious "high" on Easter, the rain clouds burst on Sunday afternoon and it once again poured for hours. I had gone to the cemetery right after church because Easter is one of only four occasions when they let you leave artificial flowers. The reason I went back today was to see how they had come through the storm. Beautifully, as it turned out, and I can now leave them for another two weeks. Oakwood Cemetery during that time will be a little brighter than usual. The web of life, in all it artful complexity, goes on.