Tom's Blog -- July 2008

                   A Memorial to a Young Man
              Who Was Bipolar

 
 

I recently attended a memorial service for a young man whose life and whose death offers some valuable lessons.  His name was Aaron Curtis Sekora. His father has given permission to us to use his real name and identity.  I first met Aaron when he was twelve years old.   Aaron's life ended tragically on July 12, 2008.  Aaron's death was at his own hand.  Aaron was bipolar. 

At Aaron's memorial service, The Reverend Martin R. Ankrum, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Greensburg, PA, offered a homily that I hope will offer comfort and assurance to bipolar individuals and their families.  With permission from Rev. Ankrum and from Aaron's family, I have posted that homily here. 

For context, it is important to understand that Aaron was a young man born to a very loving family of privilege, although Aaron's parents always demanded responsibility and did not leave room for entitlement.   Just prior to Rev. Ankrum's homily, Aaron's father, Robert H. "Bob" Sekora, offered a tribute that included these words: 

I would like to tell you about a boy from Atlanta named Ricky. When Aaron was about fourteen he went on a mission trip with the church youth group to Atlanta. They were to spend a week with some children of Atlanta and work in the soup kitchen. When they meet the children Aaron noticed that they had their papers displayed and that they all had gold stars on them for doing so well. That is, all but Ricky; Ricky had no gold stars. The teachers told Aaron that no one could reach Ricky to help him. Aaron was drawn to Ricky like a magnet. So for the week, when he wasn’t working the soup kitchen he was with Ricky. By the end of the week Ricky was one happy boy because all his papers had gold stars. Now that’s a neat story. But, that’s not the end of the story. When Aaron went to say goodbye to Ricky, Aaron gave Ricky his watch to remember him by. When Aaron came home I asked him why did he give his watch away and Aaron said “because Ricky didn’t have one.”  Fourteen years old!

Then there was the time in Washington DC where there was a boy whose name I can’t remember, so let us call him Johnny. Johnny had more serious problems. Johnny could not or would not speak. No teacher or counselor could get Johnny to speak. But, just like Ricky, Aaron was drawn to Johnny like a magnet. Aaron began to draw and the teachers and counselor noticed that Johnny took a interest in what Aaron was doing. When they stopped back later to see how the two were doing they were amazed when they saw Johnny drawing. When they stopped back again they could not believe there eyes or ears because Johnny was now speaking. In the time of Christ this would have been seen as a miracle.

As extreme as these anecdotes sound, those of us who knew Aaron, knew they were simply characteristic of the person he was. Aaron never sought privilege, he never sought material things except for basic necessities of life, he was generous to a fault with what he did have, and he devoted his best energy to reaching out to people younger than he.  Neither Aaron's  father's tribute nor Rev. Ankrum's description was just hyperbole prompted by the grief of the moment.

It is important, too, to remember that death by suicide is not a frequent event among people with bipolar disorder.  Our point of emphasis when bad things happen with people with this disorder, it is the illness at work and we must not blame the victim.    

Read what Rev. Ankrum had to say:

We have been touched by grace … any of us who have met and known Aaron, can claim that we know what the face of the grace that God gives looks like … it looks like Aaron. 

For this and so much more, we can lift our voices in thanksgiving to the God of all creation, of us all for the gift of the life of Aaron Sekora.

We could allow ourselves to devolve into discussions regarding the circumstances and struggles of his young life, the particular illness that claimed his young man or the ways in which we interacted or failed to interact with him.  All such discussions would truly be counterproductive and truly beside the point.      

The point is simple: we have known the good gifts of God by knowing Aaron.

From everyone, the first words that come out of their mouths in description of this remarkable young man was his complete disregard for material things.  For Aaron what counted was not what you could count and fold and place neatly into your wallet, bank account or mattress, but rather that mysterious element of life that defies codification and quantitative enumeration: Aaron cared for things of the spirit: both the Spirit of the living and all-inclusive God, but also for the spirit of humanity itself.

Aaron cared for the things of the spirit.

Aaron held much in common with the Russian mystics. The great Russian mystics knew as certainly as we know the sky is blue and the grass is green that saintliness is akin to madness.  If you need proof, read Tolstoy, Dostoevsky or Berdyaev … those who are touched by God are often mistaken for being mad    

Saintliness is akin to madness; caring about the things of the spirit rather than the flesh is often confused in our well-heeled and self-possessed society with madness or at least, misplaced priorities, is it not?       

Aaron didn’t care about the material or fleshy things of life … he cared about the spirit … what the kernel of truth … the divine spark … that face of Christ in those whom he met.  He cared deeply.      

What took our friend from us was not some kind of mismanagement of personal schedules or poor coordination of timing or neglect from anyone else in any stretch of the imagination.  It was not a cold, uncaring, unfeeling God either that took Aaron from us, nor was it the absence of a divine being in a cold and starry universe, whirling towards it’s unwavering enigmatic end … No, it was none of these things; what took Aaron from us was an illness … his illness; a revelation that he had lately and at last come to grips with: it was his illness.  He didn’t contract it by poor judgment or neglect of his health … it was just something that Aaron had that he valiantly struggled with and showed forth his own delightful spirit in the struggle.           

No, what took Aaron from us was an illness; his illness and we, as society and a people, have miles to go before we better grasp exactly what it is that Aaron has been dealing with for lo these many years.

So, what has become of this saintly man; this enlightened and illumined one who cared more for the things of the spirit than for anything else?

Some will have answers that help salve and comfort wounds.  Others will have no answers.  I have only testimony: testimony to the One who has told us that in his father’s house there is more than enough room.  Room for me; room for you; room for the Buddha, room for Christ, room for Aaron; my answer is only testimony to another: Jesus Christ.

In Jesus Christ, God has reached out to us, caring more for the things of the spirit, both God’s own spirit and the human spirit, than he cared for judgment or finger-pointing.  In Jesus Christ, I have found a God with a broken-heart; a God who finds saintliness as akin to madness and the things of the spirit greater than the things of the flesh.  Such is what we find in Jesus Christ; a God with a broken-heart who knows the pain of an illness beyond comprehension, that knows the mania of uncontrollable joy and desertion, that knows and knew exactly what it was and is that Aaron has endured.  This is the God I know … the God who met our friend Aaron in a field and led him home … the God who plucked like a good fisherman, the one from the thousand, the two from the ten thousand and found a home for him.

We have been touched by grace … any of us who have met and known Aaron, can claim that we know what the face of the grace that God gives looks like … it looks like Aaron.

Permission to reprint or copy requires acknowledgement of original author and the church he serves.

Aaron's father's Tribute in its entirety.

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