Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Fragile Thing

Beginning in my early twenties I spent two great years working at Schmitt Music in Roseville.  I applied for and received the job after going back to school and getting engaged.  I came on as the "string specialist" since my background was in orchestral string instruments.  This basically just meant that I was in charge of the small room that exhibited the violins, violas, and cellos that we had for sale, and I helped customers with specific string instrument questions and needs.  I enjoyed the job immensely, and enjoyed the people with whom I worked, as they were mostly music nerds, but it turns out that music nerds are easy to get along with.

One of those music nerds was a guy named Eric Betthauser.  He was our store's "music specialist," pertaining exclusively to sheet music.  What this meant was that Eric was in charge of our store's sheet music stock, which was a huge part of our business.  He would manage the stock, make special orders, and coordinate the overall stock of the other local Schmitt stores.  As I got to know Eric, I came to know him as a very genuine person - one of the most genuine people I think I've ever met - at least he stands out in my memory that way.

Eric was a huge music nerd.  His primary instrument was his own voice, and he sang semi-professionally with a group called The Rose Ensemble, which specialized in ancient, often obscure choral music.  Plus, as the music specialist at our store, he seemed to have an intimate knowledge of virtually every piece of sheet music we sold.  He was very good at his job.  And then, on his lunch breaks, he could be found in one of the practice rooms located in the store, playing piano, for no other reason than that he had time to kill and he did so playing piano.

Eric was also significantly left-leaning in his politics, and he and I had several good-natured conversations about politics and religion (at the time I was going to college for a degree in ministry, and I was known among my co-workers as the resident Christian).  But what struck me about Eric's left-leaning politics is that he actually believed them and lived by them.  For example, he was very concerned about climate change (although at that time nobody called it climate change - instead it was still global warming).  Because of this concern, every day that he worked he would sort through the garbage at the store and remove anything that could be recycled, bag it, take it home with him, and recycle it.  He also periodically utilized public transportation so as to drive his car less.  I certainly disagreed with his view on climate change, but I had to respect him for putting his money where his mouth was.  I don't personally know anyone else who espouse the dangers of climate change and sorts through his company's trash as a result.  And this was true not just on his views about the environment, but every left-leaning stance that I knew him to take.  Also, I think it's very important to note that although Eric and I had significant political differences, we were still friends.  We could have a lively discourse and still respect one another to the point that we remained good friends.

I never really got a handle on Eric's faith while I was working with him.  He professed a love for "sacred" music and even some contemporary Christian songs with which he was familiar.  Aside from that, we did debate matters of theology from time to time, although they usually arose from previous political discussions.

Eric was also incredibly health conscious, always bringing his own extremely healthy lunch with him to work.  Once, on a day that he wasn't feeling well, I asked him what was the matter and he said that it was probably the cheeseburger that he ate before bed the night before.  "Like, food poisoning?" I asked.  "No, I just don't usually eat cheeseburgers," he said.  I had to rib him a bit for that.

After my two years at Schmitt Music came to an end and I moved on to other things, Eric did so as well, soon after, moving to a couple of different places to teach music and voice at various public schools.  I kept in touch with him on social media, however, where I would once in a while engage his left-leaning posts.  During my time at Schmitt, several people worked for the company and entered into my social sphere as co-workers.  Of all of them, I consider myself to have been friends with (as opposed to acquaintances of) two of them - Eric was one of those two.

As you probably noticed, I'm referring to Eric in the past tense.  This is because he was killed by a drunk driver last night at the age of 43 - just seven years older than I am now.  I found out over social media, and immediately was saddened and looked into the details of his death.  He died on the scene after being struck while attempting to make a left turn.  As seems to usually be the case with drunk driving accidents, the drunk who hit him survived the crash and was presumably in good health, as he was released from custody on bond the following morning.

This kind of thing brings back the usual flood of emotions and memories, and other thoughts.  But above all, the thought dominating my thinking today is that we simply can't know when death will come.  Life is such a fragile thing.  One moment we're driving, the next, we're dead.  No matter how health-conscious we are and how much we prioritize organic food over processed, these precautions will not save us from late-night drunk drivers.  One minute you're here, and the next you're dead.  It's just the way this fallen, sinful world works.

We live in a world that is corrupted by sin and is populated by sinful people.  And as a result, bad things happen.  People are killed in accidents; people get sick; drunk-drivers slay those who are simply minding their own business.  In Romans 8, Paul calls these kinds of things our "present sufferings."  In other words, because we live in a sinful world populated by sinful people, we suffer.  But, Paul says, there is coming a day when the glory of God will be revealed, the world will be restored to its perfect condition, and those who are trusting in Christ will have their bodies fully redeemed.  Now there is pain and suffering; then there will be no such thing.  Until then, however, Paul says that the creation and we ourselves groan for that day to come.  I know that I personally cannot wait for the day when I will never have to read about an old friend being slain by a drunk driver.  This is why we pray, "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"

Like I said earlier, I don't know what Eric's spiritual condition was.  I hope that he put his faith in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins - even if in the last moments of his life.  Perhaps, as his life was fading from him, he called out to God for salvation.  That is my hope, and that should be our hope for anyone who goes to meet God.  Regardless, I thank God for the life of Eric Betthauser.

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