“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” ~2 Corinthians 4:18
A few years ago, I had a friend go into the hospital with a heart scare. Like several of my friends, he had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). In this particular case, he had a defibrillator implanted in his chest. And his heart rhythm spiked, triggering the machine. So he sat there, fully conscious, getting more than a dozen electric shocks to the chest. I visited him the day after he got home from the hospital, and needless to say he was scared, anxious, and drained. I had nothing to offer him long-term to cheer him up and provide a distraction (I did make him a care package based on Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part 1. It included the horse Miracle). So, I told him I’d run the half marathon in Walt Disney World in his honor that winter. I know that doesn’t seem like much of a distraction for him. But trust me. I was athletic growing up, but sometime in college got out of the running habit. I’d never run more than a 5k in a race (3.1 miles – a half marathon being 13.1), and right then I wasn’t sure I could run more than a mile. If nothing else, he’d be amused at the ongoing absurdity of my attempt. True to form, he was, and we share some laughs as he continued to deal with his bad heart and I continued to rack up the running miles on his behalf.
I registered as a runner on team Run For Our Sons, which raises money for Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy (they fund research and advocacy for DMD). I mentioned my racing inexperience and within a day, someone had reached out to me. His name was Brian, and he was an amazing runner. He was injured and still running the goofy challenge (a half marathon one day and a full the next). But as good and ‘elite’ as he was, he was totally fine with coming down to my level, meeting me right where I was at, and guiding me forward. He had tips on form, clothes, nutrition, training schedules…you name it, he helped me with it. He even had encouragement for the days that I didn’t want to go out the door. And even more encouragement on the days when I didn’t go out the door. Without him, I definitely would not have been ready for that run.
With his help, I prepared the best I could. The friend I was running for passed away a month before the race, and just like that I went from running in his honor to running in his memory. Brian was there for that too. He had his own family, his own life, and his own sons to run for. But he still invested himself in my dream, and never gave up on it. When race weekend arrived, I had the chance to meet Brian and his whole family – his wife and two teenage sons (both with DMD). The eldest, Matthew, was a junior in high school and trying to choose what college he wanted to go to. He planned to be an engineer.
I bonded with the whole family instantly. About a month later, I got to see them again during an advocacy conference on Washington DC. Once again, Brian (this time with his whole family) was there to guide me as I went to meetings on Capitol Hill, advocating for DMD awareness and research. We connected over being from New England (they from Maine, me from New Hampshire). We connected over college applications and high school English class (my favorite subject). By the end of one day with them it felt like we’d been friends for years – and that was just day 1!
Over the past few years, we’ve kept in touch. He’s kept me posted on how his boys have been doing, and we continue our support of PPMD. Then this morning, I got the sad news that Matthew died last night, of heart failure, at age 20.
Yes, it’s sad. Tragic even. My heart breaks for his family as I think about the dreams and plans that won’t be realized, his presence and smile that will now be missing. There’s no pattern to DMD death. Some people defy their lifespan and live long past the age doctors predict. Others fail to even reach it. The doctors, despite all research and medical care they can currently provide, still don’t have a way to control life and death.
To me, that’s evidence that we as people aren’t doing the picking and choosing here. We’re not meant to. God is. And He does. We are all made in love, with a specific purpose. Everything, from our flaws to our strengths to our circumstances, comes together to help shape, guide, and qualify us to fulfill our respective destinies. At the helm of that is God. And in His perfect love, when our purpose here is done, we are brought back to our true home.
So I know it’ll all work out. Matthew is ok, and no longer hindered by a failing body. His family will be comforted during this time, and as sad as the situation is they won’t be forsaken. They’ll see him again, in a place where they can enjoy him and not be constantly fighting for a cure. It’s sad, yes, but…..I can’t really say it’s a bad thing. I know where he is, and I’m happy he’s there. I’m pretty excited to be there myself, someday when the time is right. When I am, I’ll see Matthew again, and for that I have no cause to cry – just to rejoice. Our time here is so temporary anyway. A mere instant compared to our eternity. One person’s eye blink might be longer than someone else, but when it comes down to it, it’s still just a blink.