By Scott King
Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
– The Gospel of John, Chapter 20, Verses 11-16.
A couple thousand years later, I was in a cemetery in Alabama, looking for Hank Williams’s grave. We were fresh out of college and couldn’t find it. Instead, I found my friend Russell, who had passed away a few years before. I hadn’t seen him in a while. He appeared in the light, spectral. He looked at me and said, without opening his mouth, “Don’t do it, Mary.”
I added the Mary part, but all the rest is true. At the time, I was dating someone much, much younger. He was precocious yet endearingly innocent, kind of like I was when I met Russell. Russell had the strength not to do it to me, not to take advantage of my availability and leave me jaded beyond my years. After that edifying visit from Russell in the cemetery, so did I.
Learn from life, but always be open to instruction from the dead. Death has something to teach us, even when our dearly departed don’t have time to come back and give us tutorials while hovering over Alabama dirt roads.
Over the past weeks I have shed many a tear over a friend of mine who just succumbed to cancer. During the dry spells, I have felt a pain in my gut equivalent to being stunned. It is not a dull pain. I hate all dull things.
The memory, the connection, it never really ceases to exist.
“All that lives, lives forever.
Only the shell, the perishable, passes away.
The spirit is without end, eternal, deathless.”
– The Bhagavad Gita
I cry every time I read this, because it is true.
I’m always glad to hear from Russell. My recently departed friend, I still feel his spirit lingering, but I do not have the pretense quite yet to ask for an audience.
It doesn’t matter, though. Love is like the spirit. It is eternal, endless, and deathless. Love creates something that was not there before, and it does not ever go away. It just changes form.
While they gave me the invaluable gifts of love and wisdom, neither Sean nor Russell were perfect. What a useless notion. I’ve always found it absurd that the Jesus of the Bible was “without sin.” Under such a condition, how on earth (pun intended) would he have been able to relate his teachings to humanity, to lead us to transcendence of the quotidian and the material?
I doubt that the angels are perfect. They were only human, after all. And the most famous of them got too big for his britches and became the light-bearer. That’s a lot of responsibility.
My guess is that death and the afterlife, much like life on this plane, is full of flawed characters, clumsily fumbling through the darkness with a head full of light into which they think they have long ago walked.
The Russell that visited me in Alabama wasn’t any wiser or more angelic than the one with whom I used to go for walks in the woods in college. Ask anyone who knew him; he was pretty angelic when he was with us in the flesh.
And, as I think about it, eyes moistening because I’m emo, Sean’s influence was felt, at least by me, in my wonder at how lightly he could tread on the path while still lighting the way.
I don’t need to look for him anymore. He’s already there. The tomb is empty.
Scott King is an Atlanta-based writer, consultant, and political activist. He enjoys tennis, hiking, rock concerts, and having drinks with friends. He is currently working on a novel about a hooker with a heart of Bitcoin.