How Tragedy Exposes Commitment

picI had just received news that I’d been waiting for three weeks when I learned of my younger brother’s death. Just an hour before, I was on the mountain top experiencing a feeling that words could never capture. “Joy” was not right. “Excitement” wouldn’t do. “Thankfulness” probably isn’t sufficient ether. I can only explain it this way, I was feeling the emotion that only happens when God shows you that he hasn’t forgotten about you.

After the “happy” phone call,  I walked into an opening session of a conference where I would be presenting the next day. The speaker was talking about the importance of science fiction writer Octavia Butler and her impact on society. I was happy to hear this speech because I, too felt the same way. At the end of the speech, I looked at my phone and saw that my father had called. It was odd because we generally don’t speak in the evenings and his call was out of our normal routine. I missed the call. I called him back when I made it to my car.

He said, “stuff just got funky.” This phrase is something only his children know the meaning of. It means that something terrible happened. I thought he was going to say that someone got into an altercation, or perhaps a car accident, but never what he was going to say. I asked, “what happened?” He said, “your brother is dead!” My brother? I have two: one in Kentucky and the other in Atlanta. “Which one?” Jared.

I couldn’t ask many questions because I think that I was in shock. Jared was only 24. Within a matter of minutes, I went from the mountaintop to the valley. My dad didn’t have much information to share, but told me that he was headed to Kentucky right away. “Ok,” I said and we hung up. I called my mother and cried for a few moments. I was unsure how to feel. It was the best of times and the worst of times at the same time. Literally, a tale of two cities.

On the drive back to where I was staying, I wondered if I should give my talk the next day. I’m sure people would understand if I didn’t. Grief has the power to do that. Yet, this was neither my only responsibility nor commitment. What should I do? I am a feeler. I easily feel and take on the emotions of others if I am not careful. And, knowing my process, I am one who can allow things to completely consume me. But, this was not the time for me to fall apart. I could not afford it, but I could not afford to ignore that fact that one of my younger brothers was now gone. So what should I do?

I kept my commitment for the next day. I delivered the speech  though I can’t say that I was completely focused. I showed up because subconsciously I knew that in life things will always happen that will threaten to make me a liar. I had to push through. I had to do what I said that I would do no matter what. And, this is not to say that I neglected myself and my emotional well-being, but it is a recognition of my destructive emotional patterns and my need to overcome them. This revelation happened in grief.

Not only was I responsible for that talk, but I was also commitment to the members of my book club. I’d promised them a daily email for the book that we were reading and we still had 3 days left for me to fulfill my word. No, I didn’t want to continue reading and sending the email. No, no one would blame me for checking out on the emails. Yes, I would receive the sympathy but would I become strengthened? Perhaps, but I didn’t want to speculate. I HAD to continue. I HAD to keep going. I HAD to be responsible even when I didn’t want to be.

Grief taught me that I was committed to my commitment. Grief showed me that I wanted to keep going even though I wanted to stop. Grief showed me that some commitments are bigger than my emotions. And, while I will take the adequate time to grieve, I cannot drop my commitments and other people while walking through life’s ruins.

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