Three Boston University students died on Saturday. It was Saturday in New Zealand, anyway. It was still Friday here in Boston. They were going out into the countryside to hike one of the most scenic trails on the face of the planet. They were going to experience beauty and grandeur, but instead thy met pain and death.
I have been hearing a lot about Austin, Daniela, and Roch these past few days. I have been hearing about how kindhearted they were. I have been hearing about how they were adventurous and free spirits. They lived life as they chose, not as was chosen for them. They loved intensely and participated in service the community and the world out of a place of deep compassion.
Hearing all of these things gives rise to a feeling of ambivalence. On the one hand, it is sad to have lost such wonderful members of our community. On the other hand, I am deeply proud that they so fully embodied what our onetime Dean of Marsh Chapel, the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, once said: “Do not ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go and do that, because what the world needs is people who come alive.”
These three students constantly lived their lives in pursuit of experiences Dr. Thurman would have called “creative encounters,” through which they came alive. This striving after what makes us come alive is part of the marrow of the culture of Boston University, and now part of the expression of that culture in lives lived is gone from us.
I have also been hearing a persistent questioning. Why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Ultimately, of course, the answers to these questions must inevitably remain shrouded in the mystery that is life.
I remember, however, that after Br. Roger of the Community of Taizé was murdered in the midst of evening prayer, the prior of the Grand Chartreuse monastery said, “The manner of Br. Roger's death is a reflection of the lifelong cultivation of the same vulnerability by which, by preference, God gains access to us.”
Just as the manner of Br. Roger’s death reveals something to us about the nature of life, so too I think the manner of the death of these three students reveals something of the mystery.
A good life, a life lived well, a life lived fully in the pursuit of creative encounters that make us come alive is inevitably a life of risk. To walk across the street is a risk. To get out of bed in the morning is a risk. In fact, being born is a risk in that being born is the only prerequisite qualification for dying. That said, pursuing a good life means taking more risks. Being loving, compassionate, kind, free, and adventurous means taking more risks.
The problem with risk, of course, is that the probabilities do not always go our way. Sometimes the downsides of the risks catch up with us. Sometimes those downsides are downright tragic.
But is it not better to take the risk, to live full, rich, good lives in the pursuit of truth and beauty? Surely it is.
The manner of Austin, Daniela, and Roch’s deaths is a reflection of the lifelong pursuit of creative encounters through which they came alive so as to be their truest selves and of greatest service to God and the world. Amen.
Community in Mourning - a slideshow of the Candlelight Vigil for BU Students in New Zealand (be sure to view with sound).