Yes, my atheist friends.
You are correct.
My faith is a crutch.
Without one, I could travel nowhere.
Without one, I'd be on the ground right now.
The sky was lovely on Saturday, the white clouds dancing swiftly over our heads.
The warm air, birds and rabbits and intense green of the leaves spoke soundlessly of spring.
Inside St. Peter's Catholic Church, the circular pews were packed.
Teenagers sat next to their parents, dressed in clothes they probably pulled out of drawers and closets once or twice a year. Teachers, a principal and a local guidance counselor sat a few rows ahead of us.
I saw people I knew from my son's previous schools, past sports teams, intersections of time and place that I hardly recall.
Many others had paid their respects at the viewing, apparently, and were not at the service.
Near the front stood the casket.
Before the service began, I sought out the parish priest.
I hadn't seen Fr. Mike in more than a year. He and a few other local clergy had showed up to support the congregation where I had served through the horrendous death of a young man -- and I had done the same later that week.
Now we were all here to mourn the loss of, and celebrate the life of, another young man.
An athlete of great promise.
A child with sparkling blue eyes and a kind heart that draw the praise of his teachers and those who knew him.
C. shared inspirational updates on his website, even when he was terribly sick from the leukemia that was ultimately to take his life.
A runner, he used the metaphor of the race to describe his attitude towards his illness -- and of persistence.
He was a remarkable young man. A kid who could mobilize a whole school district on his behalf. A child whose translucent character illuminated the good places within our souls.
And as his father stood at the pulpit before the mass, and thanked us for our support, he did it with a grace and dignity that echoed that of his son.
In the face of the unnacceptable, he did what had to be done -- and more. So much more.
Through his eyes, we were able to know, for a moment, the boy he had loved so dearly. Loved still.
When Fr. Mike got up to give the homily, I had no idea what to expect -- preaching at the death of a young person is such an outrage against nature that many often emerge with platitudes.
There were no platitudes.
Fr. Mike took all his years of pastoral counseling, and knowledge, his realism and deep kindness and offered it up at the altar on behalf of both this deeply loved child and the grieving congregation.
Relegating the "shopworn" phrase (one I despise) "he is in a better place" to the rubbish bin it deserves, Fr. Mike said that C. had made the world a better place.
Now, he added, C. lives in the fulness of that goodness.
Big questions are my territory. I am not normally at home with answers -- but in that sorrowful congregation, I clung to the words of the preacher and of the mass like a drowning woman does to a plank in the ocean.
I affirmed, with other worshippers, that C. was now at home with the God who reaches out to us in the person of Jesus Christ. For a moment, along with them, I rested in that place of faith -- before returning to the questions I am bent to answer.
It's o.k. to have a crutch if you cannot walk otherwise. We all have them, you know.
Perhaps yours is a few extra glasses of wine with a meal -- or an endless quest for true love.
Maybe it is numbing yourself to the sometimes almost unbearable pain of loss.
My comfort, my crutch, is the man of sorrows, the good shepherd, the fount of living waters.
A means of navigation is no insult. It does not humiliate. It is, indeed, a neccesity.
Although my C. and this young man were in the same grade at the middle school, and had run track and cross-country together, they didn't know each other all that well.
They had shared a "Model Cities" course together, Mr. C. told me as we drove home. Even from the hospital, C. , who was very gifted with technology, was helpful with his advice -- advice that was to help his team shine among the local schools.
Recalling the reddened eyes of the young men and women who had sat around us, I asked Mr. C. whether the service was tough for him.
"It wasn't tough. It was inspiring" said the boy (though I believe I'd seen the glimmer of tears in his serious eyes).
One trait they shared, as different as they are, is that of a maturity well beyond their years -- a depth that touches the adults who wander through their lives.
Though I have shed many tears since Saturday, I would be deaf not to hear the message. The message that C. shared with us while he lived.
The hope that he inspires now -- even as he is a part of that greater life.
I will continue to pray for him, and for his parents, grandparents and two sisters.
May the crutch they need be there when they feel that they cannot drag themselves through another day, when the burden is too much to bear, when the emptiness taunts them.
Man of sorrows, good shepherd, risen Lord -- abide with them.
Give them, we pray, your comfort. Until one day, in a land without sorrow, they see their child, brother and grandchild again - running towards them, arms wide open.
There will be no need, then, for crutches.