The longest funeral procession in American history is underway. Beginning in California and ultimately ending with his interment in Washington, D.C., Ronald Reagan's farewell tour has already and will continue to elicit an eclectic outpouring of mourners, from Bo Derek to Lech Walesa, all paying final respects to the 40th President of the United States.
Smack in the middle of those two geographical points and a world away from the international spotlight, a mother and two young children in suburban Dallas will say an unspeakably sad and sudden goodbye on Thursday to a man who meant more to them than any world leader ever could. Brad Byker dropped dead at home plate Tuesday night while coaching his 7-year-old son's Little League baseball game. His 3-year-old daughter, decked out in full cheerleader regalia, watched with her mother from the bleachers, first with uncertainty then horror, as the most important man in their lives lost consciousness then his life.
Ronald Reagan lived twice as long as Brad Byker. Depending on your point of view or political persuasion, Reagan saved the world from the threat of Communism, freed millions of oppressed people, and made Lee Greenwood forever famous by allowing a lot of ordinary folks to feel proud to be an American again.
And not one bit of that matters to Brad Byker's family. Who cares about world affairs when your own world is turned upside down? And what's a political crisis compared to personal tragedy?
Don't be misled. Nothing makes this okay. Nothing. At least not in this lifetime. No cliche, no grief strategy, no religion. Byker had given his life to Christ as an adult. He'd lived a little bit, heard the story of Jesus, counted the cost, and made the decision to accept God's ticket-punch into the kingdom of Heaven. His family is faithful, too. But this still makes no sense. Resolves no issues. Hurts no less.
In his book, Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey makes a fantastic (and accurate) claim: that those who ask "Why?" when life deals its most cruel blows don't really want an answer. What answer, Yancey writes, could possibly swallow up the pain? If God gave us an answer, would that really make it all better? Yancey suggests what we most desperately want is to know that someone is there, someone's in charge, and someone will hold us when we can't stand to go on. And for that, we can indeed look to the One who watched his own son absorb the most unjust penalty of all time. That still doesn't completely solve or salve. What it does mean, though, is that however good we may have had it here, the best is most certainly yet to come.
What a wonderful and awful life this is. So much blessing. So little we really have. Today. And nothing more.
Mourning has indeed broken. May we join this somber chorus and plead more earnestly than ever for the rapid return of the greatest leader any world has ever known.