In the heat and humidity of a July afternoon, I stood by my mom and dad in the small-town cemetery as Rev. Stockmeier presided over the interment of my 11-year-old brother, Roger. I felt nauseated, a feeling I had become accustomed to over the last few days. I thought about touching the bronze casket one final time, but I suddenly became intimidated by the large gathering of townspeople, neighbors, and Roger's classmates who surrounded the gravesite.
Rev. Stockmeier's compassionate voice interrupted my glance over the crowd. “Roger’s family has asked that we sing the first verse of ‘By the Sea of Crystal.’” Everyone knew the familiar hymn, but the words came slowly and haltingly. I tried to sing, but the words wouldn't come through the numbness that enveloped my whole body.
By the sea of crystal, saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number, drawn from every land.
Robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus' blood,
They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.
As Rev. Stockmeier began reciting the Lord's Prayer, I began to ponder the phrase “robed in white apparel.” As much as I tried to imagine my brother Roger “robed in white apparel,” the image wouldn't appear.
Neither Roger nor I had ever had a robe; in fact, a couple of years before we had discarded our boyish pajama bottoms in favor of wearing our boxers to bed. My thoughts went to our bedtime ritual for the past two summers: a visit to the bathroom, the quick flight upstairs, a hurried prayer—Mom always asked if we’d said our prayers—and then pulling out our shoeboxes full of baseball cards from underneath our beds. Roger and I would arrange and rearrange the cards, sometimes according to teams, other times according to stats. Finger-marked and bent at the edges, the cards of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, and many others provided the basis for lively conversation and possible trades from one shoebox to another.
Tonight, though, I knew I would peruse the baseball cards in solitude. There would be no one in the bed next to mine. My nausea returned. But suddenly, in the now eerie silence of the cemetery, I saw Roger dressed in a white baseball uniform. That’s it, I thought. Jesus has Roger dressed in a white baseball uniform—home whites! And not only would it be white, but it would stay white—even after Roger made a headfirst slide into second base.
Uplifted by that image, I managed a smile as my dad turned toward me. He put his hand on my shoulder, and together we turned away from the harsh reality of the grave into a future with remembrance, imagination, and hope.