by Bailey Bickerstaff
As of late, I have been finding myself placing a foot into the world of the immortals. I do not want to die, certainly, but I seem to try to imagine more and more the experience of death. I attempt to “feel” it; that is, if there is anything to feel in the dying process. I imagine what heaven is like–or try. I’m not too alarmed, for I know why I am engaging in this somewhat morbid role-play: things seem much harder in the realm of the undead.
Two weeks ago on March 4, 2015 at 6:17 p.m., five students and one faculty member were in a car wreck, hit by an intoxicated driver after leaving Brook Hill. The faculty member, Dana Register, and a student originally from the Ukraine, Pasha Zapolskyy, were killed. That cold, rainy night three families were shattered, souls were ripped open and a family became broken like it had never seen.
To many, it felt like I could end the story there. We were frozen in time, doomed to stare at the wall for hours–all through the night. Reduced to making panicked group text messages between our friends and mere acquaintances to try to piece together what was happening to our classmates. Driven to travel to the hospital to sit with those who had lost more than imaginable. Pushed to the point of leaving numerous jumbled voicemails to our friends on vacations in different countries, because we forgot they wouldn’t answer.
Anger, hatred, and immense sorrow poured out from the Brook Hill family. It was easy to say that God had a plan to use this tragedy for His glory; it was much harder to actually believe what was said. For me, and I know for many others, it became very hard to talk to God. I could not find anything to say or ask and quite frankly, I did not feel like talking to God. I decided to do myself a favor and talk to the creator of the world when I could retain better control of choice of words.
Everyone had questions. We all asked each other and petitioned God as to why something like this would happen to us. We cried out to God as a family and individually, trying to seek meaning in a beloved classmate and loved administrator’s earthly departure. We did so again at the funerals.
At Pasha’s funeral, each mourner was given a copy of a personal essay Pasha wrote. While I knew Pasha was a brilliant mind, I was surprised at his immense ability to write. If I had known how talented and moving he was, I would have recruited him to write for this paper a long time ago. Toward the end of his essay, he wrote that he wanted his life to impact the world, especially in the area of global rights. Pasha had a dream to bring recognition to everyone of the horrible living conditions as a result of conflict in his home of the Ukraine. Pasha wanted to work to bring equal rights, work, and conditions to all living in the Ukraine.
The pastor officiating the service said that Pasha’s life was not in vain, and while it certainly wasn’t, I hold the strong belief that death is a much more powerful tool than life. It is very possible that while Pasha’s and Mrs. Dana Regester’s life were powerful examples, their deaths were the real catalysts for God’s purpose and therefore much more powerful.
Pasha was a well-loved student by all, but I doubt many knew his strong dreams for the Ukraine until they read his own words at his funeral. Most Brook Hill students, including myself, did not realize the magnitude of Ukraine’s instability until our advisors told us two days after the accident, and I am sure that we did not know of Pasha’s unimaginably difficult life.
Pasha wanted to bring change to Ukraine during his lifetime. However, what if his death shapes a future world leader into a diplomat that begins to ease the pain in that country? What if the evangelistic message the preacher spoke at the funeral–instead of a eulogy–brings the love of Christ into an unsuspecting heart? What if Mrs. Regester’s devotion to our school and her family daily inspires us to love one another and the place where we are a little better? Their deaths would be the thing they were to accomplish.
So with this knowledge, we unlock ourselves from the confines of mourning.
Because we are alive.
Although we are heavy and burdened, we rejoice for life in its newness of each day. Not because we fear death, but because we have been given a purpose, and we have time yet to correct the mistakes we have made.
We no longer push away our classmates in times of struggle, but take part in one another’s suffering. We comfort one another and regularly encourage each other with wisdom that only the Lord gives. We tell our story, a collective story, about what God is doing through pain. We are made aware daily that broken lives produce beautiful testimonies. If we do not forget all this, Pasha’s and Mrs. Regester’s deaths have accomplished their purpose. Their lives inspire us, but their deaths are what change us.
So chase your life.
Not to run from death, but to run into light. Chase that light through every valley and over every mountain peak. Chase your dreams and your nightmares. Because at the end of the day when your path in life stops, very suddenly or not, you will have run into whatever light you produced. And in your death, the light you chased will still be seen, perhaps even more so.
Remember, light fades, not stops.
” Then Job replied to the Lord, ” I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ” Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” – Job 42:1-3