Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Friend Kevin - Looking Back

The end of the year is both a time of looking back and looking ahead. So it is that I am reflecting on my friend Kevin Greim, who, on a miserable muggy New Jersey morning in September, 2008, threw himself in front of a train. He was 28.

Five years ago, I was facilitating a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. In walked Kevin, exuding a goofy charm, baseball cap on backward. But there was something about his presence that indicated he was no mere goofball. The others in the room felt it, too.

As we grew closer, he began opening up to me. Kevin was a Jehovah’s Witness. It was a faith he had arrived at rather one he was born into. As he explained to me and others, his faith provided handrails. His life now had purpose, direction. His ultimate goal was to do full-time missionary work.

But he had his setbacks, his dark moments. And his illness, his illness ...

I recall a long conversation with him over coffee, in which he recounted to me a number of difficulties he was dealing with on the missionary path.

Life as a missionary wasn’t meant to be easy, I responded sympathetically, especially if you are God’s chosen. I paraphrased a key passage from Second Corinthians for him as best as I could:

"Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep."

Paul was on a mission, literally a mission from God. His first two Letters - Romans and First Corinthians - reflect the optimism of one with God on his side: confident, bossy, out to change the world.

Second Corinthians, written many years later, reflects a different Paul: weary and disenchanted, struggling to keep his faith. Acts of the Apostles reports Paul being set upon and left for dead by a mob in Antioch and at the mercy of another in Ephesus.

My take, as I related to Kevin went like this: Here’s God telling Paul in effect, “You presume to act in My name, well then ... let's see how sincere you are after a mob has tried to crack open your skull, you find yourself holding on for dear life to a piece of boat in the open sea, your friends have turned on you, your followers have abandoned you, and your love is returned in endless measure with unbridled hate.”

It's not in God's nature to make things easy, I went on to tell Kevin. You want an easy life, then do something easy. You want to accomplish something, well don't expect any breaks. The nature of things is that you will be tested.

Of all things, my bleak little homily had the effect of cheering Kevin up. I think my friend felt that he alone was responsible for his own difficulties. Having his mettle tested by God was an entirely different proposition.

Kevin, in turn, told me something I did not know: In Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the Witnesses stood up to Hitler. At great risk to their own personal freedom and safety, they befriended Jews, they patronized Jewish businesses. Ultimately, 12,000 were sent to the camps, where 2,000 died. A purple triangle on their prison garb identified them by their religion.

I thought of other faiths that had virtually rolled over and played dead for Hitler. These Witnesses had guts, I could only think. 

Kevin is gone. But today, thanks to my friend, you are reading something positive about Jehovah’s Witnesses, perhaps for the first time in your life. I like to think that Kevin succeeded in his mission.


Anonymous said...

I still mourn Kevin, I think I always will. We all do- he touched so many people in his short life. I know probably better than anyone, that Kevin was more than a friend to you. He was like a son.

This was a beautiful piece and thank you John for writing it.

I wish you a Happy New Year, and hope this new decade is a better one for you and your endevours.

Susan and Holly.

Cha-cha-cha-cheatau said...

I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses and want to thank you for your very kind words.

I am so sorry you lost your dear friend. His struggles must have been overwhelming.

As a Witness, there are many other things Kevin would have wanted you to know. If he were still here, these are publications he would offer you to deal with your grief.

I hope you will find comfort in them.


John McManamy said...

Many thanks, Val. I will check these out. I know Kevin would have wanted that.