Editor's Note: The following is adapted from The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis, and Life in the Kingdom.
After nearly eight hours of standing in the sun, Amy and I were beginning to act a little silly. Both physically and emotionally exhausted, our conversation began to wander into all sorts of odd corners. Even the paramedics and police officers who patiently waited with us on the street corner joined in the quiet jesting. It was truly a surreal moment for all of us. What had brought us together, however, was far from a laughing matter. Our nervous chuckles covered the deep fear and uncertainty that hung over this unlikely and unfortunate event.
Living half a block away from us with her daughter and brother, Amy had been a part of our community long before we formally started Little Flowers as a small inner-city church. A single mom with a passion for Jesus, Amy is an evangelist through and through. Only weeks after her brother Andrew moved in with her, she shared with him the love and hope in Jesus Christ, which he gladly embraced. A truly gifted artist and all-around likable guy, Andrew also struggled from a rough childhood and untreated mental illness. He soon became a part of the Little Flowers family, his whole countenance changing for the better every day. It was beautiful to see and a privilege to be a part of.
Which is why I was unprepared for the call I received from Amy earlier that Mother's Day morning. Visiting her adoptive mother across town, Amy had received an emergency phone call from local police informing her that Andrew had jumped the fence into the construction site opposite their home, climbed several stories into the scaffolding, and was threatening to jump.
Since I lived seconds away from her house, she asked if I would go down there until she arrived. Grabbing my keys, cell phone and hat, I jogged the half block to where the police had already arrived en force.
Even though I already knew what I was walking into, my heart leapt into my throat as I watched Andrew sprint across the narrow, bouncing boards to the far end of the scaffolding high above my head. Throwing off the planks that made up the walkway, he cut himself off from all immediate access and leaned out over the edge, threatening to jump. It became very clear that he was terrified, confused and not himself. All I could do was pray, God, help him.
While Amy had arrived much earlier, when she attempted to talk to Andrew, he did not seem to know who she was, lost in a cloud of paranoia and confusion. So obvious was his rapid deterioration that his plight began to draw a crowd—neighbors, friends, even passersby stopped to watch the shocking scene they had encountered. One neighboring household even had a barbeque in their front yard so they could watch, their kids playing in full sight of the events. It is hard for me not to feel angry with such callous insensitivity, but perhaps, like so many of us, they found themselves facing the unimaginable with no sense of how to respond and therefore defaulted into the all-too-common pattern of our culture: voyeurism. For whatever reason, we were all captive with fear and dark anticipation.
And so we stood together, watching, waiting, hoping and praying. After those eight long hours had past, we were sure it could only mean that he wasn't prepared to jump. However, just in case, not wanting Amy to see anything, I positioned myself so that, while I could watch Andrew and keep her informed, she had her back to the scene. I do not know what inspired me to do that in that moment, but I can only believe that it was the Holy Spirit.
Moments later, spreading his arms wide, Andrew leaped from the scaffolding and fell to his death. The instant he jumped, Amy saw the pain and disbelief on my face. As quickly as her brother's body had fallen to the ground, the grief came crashing down over her and she wept, repeating over and over: "No! No! Oh God, please, no!"
There, with Andrew's devastated sister sobbing into my chest, her fists clenched on my coat, I was overwhelmed by the gravity of what had just happened—the absolute, irreversible loss that Amy was experiencing, that all of us were experiencing. Death is never easy, but this was so tragic, so sudden and so violent, I had no words. All I could do was hold her and share her grief as best I could.
Blessed are those who mourn . . .
When faced with the stark reality of such unimaginable suffering, our carefully articulated theology, our quick spiritual platitudes and our easy assurances of salvation seem to crumble. And it was into this reality that God began to open up our hearts and minds and lives to the powerful and unrelenting truth of the Beatitudes. How, in light of such tangible loss and suffering, can we ever call ourselves blessed?