David died of metastatic bone cancer just a few days after the September 11th bombings. All the grief over the killings will always be bound in my mind to the loss of David. I wrote this the day he died:
You died today at 6 am. I was planning to write you. I have always been planning to write you –ever since you gave me your address when you left. I hope you didn’t mind. We were never very close, but I wish I had a chance to tell you that I admired you. I remember that afternoon when I asked how the doctor’s visit had been. You told me that it was cancer. “Oh,” I said, “but not a serious cancer is it?"
“Very serious,” you replied. I was amazed that a 17-year-old could make such conversation without hesitation. You didn’t put on a false bravery either; you admitted to us that you were afraid. I would have been more afraid than you. I would have been angry if my future had withered just as I was reaching manhood.
I remember the last night you were at Covenant. You and the guys from the dorm came over to my house. We read poems. Your poem was beautiful. You wrote it long before you knew there was a cancer in your bones. You wrote about being lonely. You wrote about sitting alone when everyone else sat with friends. You wrote about being afraid to talk to girls. You wrote about your faith in God. I was amazed at you. I was amazed at the peace you found in loneliness, and how grateful you were. You were grateful that the guys at Catacombs had made you feel welcome and loved. You were grateful for the three months you got to spend with us here. You were even grateful for the cancer that you couldn’t understand. We all just sat around the fire and laughed and read each others poetry. Before you left we all took a picture together. You didn’t smile. You didn’t frown. You just looked right at the camera while the rest of us clamored and grinned.
You faded suddenly. For the last two years all I heard was good news. You were feeling strong. Your chemotherapy was going well. And then suddenly one day all the news changed. You were dying. You had perhaps a month left. Fernando told me about seeing you. He said you looked weak, but as always you were kind and resilient. You said that you take it one day at a time. I wish I could have gone to see you. I wish I could have put my arm around you and said, “Courage. Take courage.” I wish that I had written you a letter. I planned to write someday just to let you know that you were in my thoughts and prayers, but you died too quickly.
I know you are at peace. You see the face of God. But I cannot help but feel angry for you. Angry that you went so early… angry that you will never fall in love, graduate from college, make love to a woman, have children. All the things I have in life anger me right now because you will never have them. Your death came at the time everyone was mourning for thousands of people who died in New York. They died in falling buildings, and the whole world cried for them and vowed revenge. You were dying too but no one noticed. You had no woman who loved you, no children, no close friends to mourn you. Due to the timing, your family’s mourning is likely lost in the national paranoia. I wonder if any of us at all will be thinking of you 10 years from now when we all have wives, children, and lives of our own? I am angry at myself that I never wrote you. You gave us all your address when you left. I was never a close friend, but did you have many close friends? I thought of you often, up north in some lonely oncology ward. You would have taken comfort in letters from one of your friends from college. And you might have shared your wisdom with me. I would have known how to mourn you better because I would have known you. But I was always too busy, always planning to write you later. Now you have died, and I am mourning that I did not know you. I realized long ago that you were wise and lonely. I should have been a friend to you. I think you needed friends. I hope that when I die, that I have friends. But you died too young, and we who are young forget too quickly… too quickly to hold on to a friend over 2 years of chemotherapy.
I wonder if you died alone. Was everyone who should have been focused on you too absorbed in the news of bombings and war? I hope no one told you about it. I hope you slipped away without the thought of the whole world—the world that needed the wisdom and kindness that you would not live to bestow—mourning thousands of dead New Yorkers, never knowing that you were dying alone or that you even ever lived. But you are no longer lonely, you know the presence of Jesus our Savior. I am the one who is lonely. I am here thinking of you and crying. Did I tell you that I cried when I heard you were dying? I had not cried in many years. I didn’t even cry when I heard about the thousands of innocents killed last week, but I cried for you. I cried that you died so young. I cried that I could never know you as I had wished I could two years ago when we spoke at my house.
I know that heaven is a better than here. I know that death does not have the final victory, but it is a chasm between us. You know longer have the possibilities of this life, the books you hoped to write, the women you longed for, the friends you needed, the wisdom you wanted to share. I must live my life better. You give me wisdom even in death. I will join you in death someday, and it will be better there, but for now I will live my life better. I will live and love better for all the life and loves you missed.