Nathan Samuel Day
19 November 1978 – 24 January 2001
Even in the best of circumstances, death is hard. Especially if you were close to the person who died, the loss is hard to assimilate. It’s difficult to find acceptance, to let go, to move on. But when that person dies young, like Nate (who was 22), it’s doubly hard. And when their death is self-chosen, when it is voluntary and premeditated, the impact can be brutal for those left behind.
For the past three days, we’ve been trying to pick up the pieces of our lives. Trying to reach for some shreds of understanding. Trying to find solace for our own and each other’s pain. It’s said that we always hurt the ones we love. Nate certainly proved the truth of this saying. He clearly loved (and was loved by) many of you here in this room. And he knew that he was going to hurt us, to hurt those he loved, when he drove out to Poor Mountain early Wednesday morning. But I don’t believe he had a clue as to how deep, how searing, how long-lasting the pain he left behind was going to be.
It has occasionally felt, over the past couple of days, as though Nate’s own, well-concealed pain was like some strange, lethal virus. He had picked it up somewhere (God alone knows where or when or how), and by dying the death he chose to die, he transmitted this virus, this bone-numbing anguish, to us–his family and friends. It feels, in other words, as though we have all been infected with something highly contagious and potentially deadly. And now we’re left to take up Nate’s burden of pain. To carry on.
Yet it also seems that maybe Nathan was secretly crying out, “This pain, this emptiness, this unhappiness is too much for me. I can’t figure it out. I can’t carry it any longer. Can you help me figure it out? Can you help me carry it?” Then he decided to leave us. And in leaving, he took his unbearable pain and parceled it out to each of us. In one sense, he multiplied his pain. But perhaps, in doing so, he also multiplied the opportunities for it to be healed.
This is what we have been holding since early Wednesday morning. In addition to the multitude of warm and wonderful and precious memories that we have of Nate, some of which we’ll get to share shortly, in addition to these, each of us has also been bequeathed with an unbelievably intimate piece of Nathan to carry around with us through the coming days and months and year–his pain.
We also carry with us his choice–to keep what is inside us hidden and buried, or to allow it to be open and shared. When I stretch as deeply as I can for some understanding of this terrible tragedy, what I keep hearing is, Stay Open. Whatever is blocking your heart–whether it be anger or pain or fear–try to move through it. Don’t get stuck, like Nate got stuck. Don’t let the anger, pain, and fear harden into bitterness, blame, and despair.
Set aside at least some of the masks. When you summon the courage to move through your anger, you will discover pain. When you move through the pain, you’ll find fear. And in moving through that fear, you will find love, you will find God, you will find a truly beautiful self shining in the darkness.
This ties directly into why we were so shocked, so stunned at the news of Nate’s death. “How could he have done it?” we keep asking ourselves. And even more disturbing, “How could he have been so lonely, so unhappy, so desperate, for so long, and I didn’t know about it, I didn’t see it? How could I have been so taken in by the happy-go-lucky, fun-loving mask that Nate wore? How could I have been so easily deceived?”
I believe these questions challenge us profoundly because, when it comes right down to it, we don’t see what we don’t want to see. Likewise, we won’t see in others what we are unwilling to see in ourselves. Only when we are honest enough to acknowledge our own veiled anger will we be able to recognize it in others. Only when we are courageous enough to feel our own hidden pain will we perceive the suffering of those around us. Only by choosing to face our own deepest fears, to become unafraid of being afraid, only then will we see through the masks that others, like Nathan, have woven around themselves to protect themselves from their fears.
So this pain and this choice, along with all the precious and wonderful memories, are the gifts Nate leaves with us. I pray that he may be forgiven (by those he loved) for what he did, for truly he knew not what he did. And I pray that we may learn to use his gifts wisely and lovingly. That we may continue to reach out and comfort each other, as we have been doing the past few days, with open arms and open hearts. That we may find within us the deep healing that Nate so desperately needed. That Nate continues to need. That we need.