by Devlin Donaldson
Crosswalk.com December 1, 1998
I am doomed to remember a boy with a unique voice--not because of his voice, or because he was one of the stranger people I ever knew, or even because our relationship often encouraged each of us to give in to our own vices--I am doomed to remember him because he was an instrument of God in my life. Because of Rich Mullins, I have deeper understanding of what Grace means. That paragraph is a paraphrase of the first paragraph of "A Prayer For Owen Meany," the book that bonded Rich and me together. Early in our relationship I shared the book with him and it set the tone for our relationship.
As I learned of Rich's death, someone said to me, "It was always comforting to know that Rich was in the world. It is hard to imagine the world without Rich." And while I agree with that, the paradox of Rich's life is that I have always had just as hard of a time imagining Rich being in this world. As time passes and we reflect on the life and death of Rich Mullins, I fear that the focus will be on his immense talent, his insightful and poetic lyrics, his ability to communicate to crowds. To me, the most comforting thing about Rich's life was the total humanity of his existence. Yes, Rich was a great guy. At the same time, he could be stubborn, contentious, harsh and judgmental. Yet in spite of, and probably because of these traits, Rich had a profound understanding of grace.
I was far from Rich's best friend. When we were apart, I know he rarely even thought of me. I know this, because in his own quirky, honest, blunt, and course way, Rich told me so. "I love being with you, but when you are gone, I don't miss you. I don't think about you," he said one day. "But don't take that personally. That is true of everyone I know." What Rich was really saying, whether he even understood it at the time, was that he was so sensitive that it hurt him too much to allow himself to feel any pain, even this kind of loneliness. He learned, and not for particularly spiritual reasons, to live in the now, to live in the moment. That is a trait that I still wish I had learned from him.
It was my good fortune to travel America with Rich. I had the even greater fortune to travel to Guatemala with Rich, to show him the work of Compassion. I never saw Rich as alive as he was around these kids, facing lives of pain and struggle. Because, I think, they allowed him the chance to let the innocent, sensitive, little kid he held inside himself--in protective custody--to come out and play.
Rich was also passionate about the plight of Native American kids. So much so that he spent time living on the reservation teaching in a school that was partially supported by Compassion. His music wasn't nearly enough for him to give. He had to give a piece of his himself. His time, his energy, his focus.
I haven't spent the time with Rich over the last few years that I wished I had. Yet I always knew that the next time I saw him we would start up right back where we left off. And maybe, had I thought about it, I would have thought that if we never saw each other again I would always have a time with him when we both finally ended our earthly struggles. Rich is happier now. That is easy to believe. He was always struggling with his passage through this life. Rich saw things differently. He felt things more acutely. He heard things most of us were unaware of. He is happier. He has been released from that awareness that informed his art and tortured his soul.
It is irrefutable: I will not see Rich again in this lifetime. I hate that thought. But it is the reality I live with. But I have absolute confidence, not just hope, that I will see my friend again. Rich, my prayer for you is "INTO PARADISE MAY THE ANGELS LEAD YOU." And as John Wheelright, the main voice in "A Prayer for Owen Meany" says in the last line of the book, referring to his lifelong friend, "O God--please give him back! I shall keep asking you."