When Breath Becomes Air – Witness

12991037_10103904276061367_6123592075536985263_nWe’ve been working through the middle chapters in the book of Acts at City Pres lately. We’re thinking about what it might look like for the church to go out into the world unhindered (which is the last word in the book). It sounds nice to go back and be the first century church – all those signs and wonders, those miracles and tongues, the energy and power.

Except for those martyrs. The first one is Stephen in chapter seven. He’s stoned to death. He becomes the first witness to die, to give his life readily and quickly for the love of Christ. To forgive the very ones who are persecuting him. They gave witness to the life and work of Jesus; they gave their blood as seeds for the church.

Last Friday I read the memoir When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a recounting of his life journey. He studied philosophy, literature and medicine. He went through the grueling rigor to be a world class neurosurgeon. He was always interested in the nature of the brain, and how it made a person who he or she was. He always pondered the thin line of life and death. He often considered the ins and outs of time. He loved to help his patients. He wanted to give truth and hope. Just as he was finishing his residency, he found out he had cancer. So the doctor became the patient, and now as he struggled, he also learned in the struggle.

He’d married Lucy in med school and with time now very likely short, they decided to have a baby. He started treatment, which worked for awhile. He held on for two years, and during that time he devoted himself to recovery, to surgery and to writing his book. His daughter was born, and he was able to hold her. But then in March 2015, he died. He was in his late thirties.

His last written words were written with his baby daughter in mind. He wrote, “Yet one thing cannot be robbed of her futurity: our daughter, Cady. I hope I’ll live long enough that she has some memory of me. Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave her a series of letter—but what would they say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is fifteen; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been and done and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a stated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”[1]

In the book’s epilogue, Paul’s wife Lucy reflects on the journey they had together. She quotes from a hymn derived from The Pilgrim’s Progress. And then she finished this way, “Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death—and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes.

I was his wife and a witness.”[2]

There’s a peace, to settle your soul. There is a peace that it calling you home. 

There’s a peace, perfect and true. The Prince of Peace is calling for you. 

[There Is A Peace, Charlie Richardson, 2007]

[1] When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi, pp. 198-199

[2] ibid, 225

Doug in library