Kareem Elgawly: February 1, 1992 – September 5, 2014
Bye Bye Bye, baby, bye bye bye! blasted on the sound system as I entered Vons a few hours ago. Yeah, it was ‘NSync, a boy band that I never really got into, but they had a couple of big hits that stuck with me throughout the years. That one and “This I promise you”. A strange melancholy gripped me right away, but not the bad gloom, it was the good gloom, if you catch my meaning. It was the kind of sadness that you have that for some reason, has a joy mixed in with it. Bitter-sweet. The song took me somewhere. It’s not about the words, it’s about the era it represents. I was transported to the 90s. I was reliving fun times with my friends from Church, midnight praises that only a few of us attended, laughing fits during Joyous Saturday vigils. I remembered sleeping over at my friends’ homes, the late night randomness and maniacal, hysterical laughing, and the childish pranks. I remember teasing and being teased. I remembered who my friends were, and how long it had been since I had either seen them, or spent time with them. It took me to when I got my driving license and used to be so excited to drive anywhere – even grocery shopping – just to drive while playing music. I would be feeling like a man because I was behind the wheel. I remember my late night walks in the streets of Upper Egypt during my summer visits. I would walk my friends home, and then take the last stretch of the route by myself. I reveled on those nights, internally. I would sing songs, recall memories from that day, and wonder in my mind what would come tomorrow. Yes, just by hearing one line of lyric I was transported to that time. I was transported there – and felt those bursts of joy, but then the gloom set in, when there was a remembrance of something real: finality, finiteness, that there is an end. The past had reached out to me in song, but the present was that it’s over.
Earlier this morning, a very dear friend of mine snapped a picture from his Bible reading:
You see, today is the one year memorial of Kareem Elgawly, his best friend and his soulmate. For a year, he has carried that grief of separation, and yet, Love, which is beyond time and location and body, reached out to him this morning.
Very difficult is the pain of loss, of separation. It need not even be death – sometimes separation because of distance is more difficult, because it feels like someone who is alive, is effectively, well, not alive. I used to think that a need for friends was deplorable, weak, and childish. I remember telling my friends, “Friends are nice but unnecessary.” I laughed at their reactions, and was surprised when they took offense. Though the words may be true, today I recognise it as pride. It presumes a spiritual high in which one is united to God Himself completely. It presumes that all human interactions were unnecessary because I was self-sufficient, or because God was spoon-feeding me everything needed for my existence. It presumed that I could love God without loving others.
This was false.
Our God created us to live in community. He created Adam and then He gave Adam, Eve. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, when really they could have lived eternally just the two of them and God. But that’s not what the design of Creation is. The design has us living with and for one another. Our free wills are for one another. In fact, we are told, that if anyone says “I love God” and does not love his neighbour, well, that man is “a liar” (1 John 4:20). If anyone sees another naked, sorrowing, tired, imprisoned, or hungry and ignores it, then God says to that person, “I don’t know you” (Matt 7:22). We were designed to live for one another, and inevitably, our interactions are going to have happy moments and sad moments. There will be days when new life, new friends, and new experiences bring us joy unspeakable, and there will be days when the bitterness of death and separation grip us.
We ought not to deny our humanity. We ought not to pretend that sorrow is not real. Too often I have met Christians who are quick to sermonise about how one ought to rejoice that a friend has gone before us to heaven. This is true. I believe this. In my humanity, however, I may feel sadness. Our Lord took on our humanity and felt these things too. Apart from our Lord weeping at the death of Lazarus, Luke testifies something very interesting, He says that
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled. (Luke 11:33)
He groaned, He was troubled. So yes, we do, as humans, need our time to groan and moan, and feel troubled. It is an expression of our love for that person, that something in that person lives within us.
We must not, however, forget that weeping must not last forever. We must not forget that these memories become part of our identity, part of our human experience, but that we must still live. We do believe in the resurrection from the dead, and we do believe that though parted in the body right now, that we will indeed meet again. We do believe that those in the heavens are interceding for us here, and accompanying us insomuch as our God allows them to do – this is a mystery.
Because even though today I felt that melancholy, even though today my friend got his outreach, what we must remember also, is that during the year that passed for him, and the years that passed for me – there were new memories, there were new experiences, there were reasons for joy and there was life for one another. Memories are not dead, they are living, and in spite of separation, we grow. If we grow in Love, then we are actually growing closer to one another, we become more united in Him – who unites the corporeal and the incorporeal in Himself.
Decay is a field for new life. From old memories emerge a fuller, changed person. From and in this person is Love.
Let’s cling to Love. Weep not over past memories, because our Lord says, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5) Remember the old, but look forward to the new.
Here’s to the old friends and memories who are not forgotten, but let’s eagerly anticipate the new ones to be forged.
Memory Eternal Kareem Elgawly, memory eternal.