The following is an article I wrote for the St. Albans Messenger, which was published on Friday, December 14th.
The Value of a Life
In the past eight days, I have attended two funerals. The first was for my grandfather. We anticipated his death for months. When it finally came, a few dozen family and friends gathered to mourn, reflect and celebrate his life. Eulogies were offered. Scriptures were read. Songs were sung. As far as funerals go, his was typical for an 87 year-old who died of “old age.”
The second funeral was for A.J. Holzscheiter, the 18-year-old BFA Senior who took his own life on November 30th.
A.J.’s death was anything but expected. He was young, healthy, and liked by all. He was a star athlete and an exemplary student looking forward to college, with many close friends and a tight-knit family.
Two funerals. Two very different circumstances. Yet both reminded me of one truth: life is precious.
It was at A.J.’s funeral that it hit me the hardest. As I stood in the back of the Collins-Perley Sports Complex (it was standing room only) and scanned the crowd, I saw the many other lives A.J.’s single life had touched. By my count, at least 750 people were there [I have since learned it was at least 1500]: A.J.’s family members, friends, teachers, classmates, teammates, and many friends of the family. At varying depths, our hearts all felt the same void left by A.J.s life. When something valuable is lost, we feel its value keenly. A.J.’s life was valuable. It was priceless.
If this is true of A.J., it was also true of my grandfather. It is true of everyone you love. It is true of your friends and your enemies. It is true of your mail carrier, your Hannaford’s cashier, and your furnace repairman. It is true of the old woman neglected in a nursing home and the celebrity at the peak of her fame. It is true of every single person living or dead who has populated this planet. And it is true of you. Your life is precious.
What gives our lives value is not our achievements, our usefulness to society, our productivity, or our beauty. Our value is inherent. It is the mark of the divine on us—or rather, in us. The famous passage in the first chapter of the Bible tells us that God created men and women “in the image of God.” Every person bears the indelible mark of their Maker.
At Christmas we remember just how far the Maker went to prove the value of human life. God “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), being born as a baby, growing up, and living a human life much like any other. Jesus came and shared in our human experience, and by his life showed the sacredness of all life. What is more, he came to bear all our human sorrows and pain, meeting an early death himself, in part to show that God is no stranger to our suffering.
Don’t wait until a funeral happens to appreciate the value of a life. Behold the image of God in those all around you. Give hugs to your family. Be kind to strangers. Spend less time looking at screens and more time looking at faces. Prize people over things. Celebrate with those you love. Thank the God who gives the precious gift of life. I can’t think of anything more appropriate for the Christmas season.