I love this picture of my nephew Louie. In a way, it's not that great of a picture--you can't even see his face. Just his back (with "Dudek" on his sweatshirt) and my kids goofing around with him when they were little. That's Robbie in the red, and Eli in the background in green. The time stamp says 11-27-99.
But this is what I think of when I think of Louie: Visiting his family--my in-laws--in Chicago, and my boys having a great time playing with him and his older brother Erik. First they were supervised by the grownups; later, the boys would be off on their own playing with Legos and balls. Still later, video games and bikes. My boys loved their older cousins, and I was always thrilled that Louie and Erik played so nicely with my younger ones.
This weekend, Louie's friends and family are posting pictures of Louie on facebook. Today would have been his 19th birthday. He died last spring of lymphoma.
I won't see Louie again in this life. It's a physical sensation, this loss. When I think about Louie, it feels like someone kicked me in the chest.
Looking for this photo in my albums gave me a chance to think about those years before we knew about that lymphoma. There are pictures of the boys at the zoo, at various museums (visiting Chicago-land museums was OUR family's Black Friday tradition for many years), and playing in the Dudeks' home. I have a mental image--though no photos--of Susan, my sister-in-law, great with child (Louie) at Thanksgiving, 1992. He should have been born in late November. He wasn't in any hurry.
What if we had known what the future would bring for Louie, for us? The shock, the struggle, the loss, the grief? I think that's why I love those old photos so much: because in them, we didn't know. We were all just living, enjoying life.
The sermon at church this morning was on the Annunciation. Pastor Paul pointed out that it wasn't really an announcement, because the angel waited for a reply. "It was a proposal," he said. "Mary could have said 'no.'" Mary knew that accepting this proposal meant she could be in trouble as a young unmarried woman, pregnant. But what she didn't know was the real future: riding to Bethlehem at 9 months pregnant, fleeing to Egypt, watching her son's ministry grow, watching her son die.
She didn't really know the future. But she said yes.
Louie was on my mind this morning, so I interpreted the sermon in the light of his life and death. None of us knew the future when he was born, either. We just loved him. And when the future unfolded, we lost him.
But still. We don't yet know the rest. We don't know our future, and how Louie's life will impact us. God keeps urging us--Louie's friends and family--to go on. Despite the foot on the chest, we'll say "yes," too.