Unless you happen to live under a rock, I assume you have heard of my friend Adam, and his “untimely” death. I put “untimely” in quotes because he was only 25 years old, and if we were going by my timetable, he would not be dead for some time. In fact, if we were going by anybody’s timetable, he would still be selling camping equipment, planning his research project, leaving baked goods on peoples doorsteps, serving his God, and occasionally writing me letters asking me about all my surfer boyfriends and complaining about how much he hates it when people eat with their mouths open. But, as it turns out, we are operating on God’s timetable, so to say that this was “untimely” might be a bit presumptuous.
Anyway, if you have more questions about all that, I suggest you go stalk some facebooks or something, because this post is more about the aftermath. You see, my biggest fear, following Adam’s passing, is that I will not learn anything from him, from all this. No matter what, his death is a tragedy that has affected my life. It is up to me to learn from it, and allow his life and death to also be a blessing. Other people have also acted as blessings to me in all this. Four people sent me money to help me buy a plane ticket to the funeral, and countless people have commented and messaged and generally expressed compassion and prayers. I can’t really do justice in this paragraph to the love that I have seen displayed since Adam’s death.
So, thanks to a bunch of people, I found myself with a plane ticket to Phoenix. Sarah and I had a grand time bearding people out, while driving to the Ontario airport.
From Phoenix, I would fly from Atlanta, where I would drive with Caroline to Gettysburg for the funeral. Or so I thought. I suppose it was quite naive of me, to think that I could have a perfectly boring trip to any event involving Adam Smelser. Long story short: after 24 hours of cumulative airport/plane time and four flights, I made it. I flew from Ontario to Phoenix to Philadelphia to Atlanta to Washington D.C., where Andrea and I had lots of shenanigans before Caroline picked us up. It didn’t matter how many flights or how much money it took, I just cared about getting there.
Our time in Gettysburg was a whirlwind of talking, praying, exploring, crying, laughing, and drinking coffee. The funeral was so good, despite the fact that our row was full of embarrassingly loud criers, and my nose felt like I’d been using sandpaper kleenex the entire evening. Let’s just say we used a few tissues.
Our drive back to Atlanta took longer than intended, partially because we took a long nap/lunch break before starting, partially because the weather was plague-like in temperament. Anyway, we ended up taking some back roads, and taking a pit stop at a thrift store in rural Virginia. I bought a hideous sweater, and Caroline bought some 1950s-era diaries of a 18-year-old girl named Patty Kluttz.
The diaries turned out to be a wonderful diversion for the two-day trek back to ATL. We learned all about Patty, which isn’t saying much once you realize that she seemed to think that diary meant “date record.” I can say with confidence that Patty Kluttz went on more dates in one week than I have been on in my entire lifetime. Sometimes she mentioned some church related stuff she was participating in, but mostly it was comments like, “If I don’t find someone soon, I think I’ll die,” “I didn’t go on any dates today, I feel like an old maid,” and my favorite, “Today we couldn’t go to church, because Herb didn’t have a belt.” Right. Anyway, we were so enthralled with her story, we tried to look her up that night. Unfortunately, right now she seems to have disappeared, and the only traces we have of her existence are two old and dusty diaries.
The rest of my time on the East coast was seasoned with snow, sleeping, singing, and seeing old friends. Also, I may or may not have witnessed Caroline’s American Girl Doll collection. That, my friends, was a thing that is some stuff. I made it to all of my flights for the return trip, and managed to make it to my uncle’s house just in time to make the stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner (just kidding, we do dressing. Ain’t no way I’m sticking my hand inside a Turkey carcass). I learned a lot at my uncle’s including some facts about a thumb eating eel named Emma, and…
From my uncle’s, my mom and I drove to 50 year anniversary party for a couple from my church. 50 years. yeah. My favorite part of the evening wasn’t the fact that the food was good, or that I got to see people I hadn’t seen in forever, or that it was a novelty to see dancing at a COC event, or even that it was so inspirational to hear about the life they had built together. No, my favorite part was the fact that there had been a mix-up in the place settings, so mine read “Mrs. Emma Angelo,” and my mom’s read, “Mr. Shay Angelo.”
Revel in that for a minute.
Pretty great, right? I mean, wow. Adam would have done one of his head-back, deep laughs about that one.
Anyway, that’s been my week. So much has happened in it, it’s kind of overwhelming. But like I said, my biggest fear is that time will pass, and I will forget the things I learned or could have learned from all this. So, I am bound to fight against that possibility. What have I learned from Adam? Mrs. Smelser said he was content without being complacent. I think that’s a pretty good way of putting it. Sadly, I’m not quite so succinct as that. So here are some things I have learned from this week:
1. Care for others
Not only have I realized how much Adam cared for others on a constant basis, but I have been overwhelmed with the amount of care that has been poured out on those who are grieving. Both of these things have made me want to do better for others in turn. Typically, I tell myself, “You don’t know what to say to that person who is hurting,” or “There is no way that you can help that person who is hurting.” When, in fact, just the attempt to comfort or help will probably do more harm than good, and there is really no way for me to get better at caring for others without trying. The small acts of kindness shown to me (through money, napping places, and meals) during this have made an impact on my heart, and made me realize how many hurting people I have avoided reaching out to in the past.
Another way I have been complacent is by procrastinating in my everyday relationships. Too often, I put off having that difficult conversation, or even just telling people how much they mean to me, because I operate under the false belief that I have all the time in the world. In reality, no amount of time here is guaranteed me, and I am a steward of whatever time I am given.
Maxine and Larry built a family with their 50 years. Not only did they raise their own children to love and serve the Lord, but they opened their home to four other children as well. The room was full of people who had been touched by them at some point during those 50 years, and it was beautiful to hear about the ways they had served others with what they had been given.
And then there’s Patty. I don’t know much about Patty, other than the fact that she went on a lot of dates, and she was an active member in the Lutheran church. Don’t get me wrong, she had standards and morals, but she was, like one preacher she met, “twitter-pated.” She “loved love,” and her main goal in life was to find it. Her diary could also have been called 365 first dates. It wasn’t that she wasn’t doing good things with her life, but those good things were all of secondary importance to her pursuit of a husband.
Adam was a prime example of contentment. I mean, sleeping in a tent in Alaska? Sharing a bunkhouse at a fishery? Sleeping on homemade furniture in a shed in West Texas? Eating rice while cooking for others? It’s crazy to think about being that content. Does he regret it now? yeah right. He’s finished his race. All of us benefitted from his example, and none of that even matters to him anymore. The shed, the tent, the way he died—I don’t think any of it is of the smallest importance, because it all seems so small in comparison to what he is now experiencing. And even then, it was worth it to him, because he knew where he was going. He had plans, and so the little things didn’t really matter.
I get that when it comes to my travels—taking four flights to PA, driving through rain and snow to Atlanta—the ends totally make the means irrelevant. But somehow I get sidetracked in life, and I forget about the importance of my destination. I complain about the bumps in the road, as if they actually mattered.
This is from a letter from Adam right before his Alaska trip, postmarked June 19, 2012. I was initially avoiding sharing this excerpt, because it’s kind of eerie to me:
“Everyone here is…vaguely bemused, I suppose, by my plans. Many of them are convinced that I’ll die, but there are some that are under the impression that I have such intense survival skills that I can’t be drowned. Well, that’s nice, I suppose. Frankly, dying is not quite at the top of my agenda for this year.”
Adam had a lot on his agenda for the year. He got a lot done in the year and a half between the time he wrote this letter and when he was taken from this world. He grew a lot on his own, he encouraged people all over the country, he worked and saved money, he spread the gospel, and he had tons of grand adventures. None of us can say why God chose to give him that year, and to not leave him here for any more, but he sure got a lot done with the short amount of time he had.
I knew I had a short amount of time in PA (thanks to a gift from others) in order to cry and laugh with those I loved, but soon I would have to leave again. There wasn’t much time, so I took advantage of those opportunities every chance I got. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore, and I laughed without reserve. I wasn’t like, “You know, really I would rather do homework than spend time with you.” I want to treat life more like that; living boldly and using every moment like it is a limited gift from God. Because it is.
Frankly, dying is not quite at the top of my agenda for this year, but I’ll tell you what is:
- Doing more, bragging less
- Giving more, spending less
- Thanking more, complaining less
- Praying more, blabbing less
- Laughing more, worrying less
- Serving more, self less
Maybe if more of us are more silly, serving, giving, thanking, praying, and doing, then the void that Adam left behind wont be quite so big and gaping. Maybe if we tell more strangers Happy Birthday, and look out for each other more often, and quit complaining so much, it’ll turn out to God’s glory. I sure hope so, because right now the world is facing a severe shortage of ugly sweaters and awkward moments. I share this with you, not so that you will be like:
“Oh, what an awesome person that Emma is.” “I know, too bad she’s named after a thumb-eating eel.” “I know, right? And I heard a rumor that she’s married to her own mother?”
Woah, that hypothetical conversation deteriorated quickly. Anyway, I tell you this because I want to be held accountable. Because I don’t want my days to be measured in the number of dates I went on, or the money I made, or the grades I got. I want to leave a mark like Adam, like the Ashtons. I want to conceptualize my time gifted to me, and when my time is a gift, it’s easier to be grateful for it and share it with others.
Peace, Love, and Ugly Sweaters.
Oh! I almost forgot—I also learned not to feed finger-shaped food to vicious sea creatures, even if they do have incredibly lovely names.