• J. Jamal

Live Backwards

Updated: Jul 7

The black casket rests in the center of the stage, under a spotlight. Arrangements of blue flowers adorn the casket and the area surrounding it. Soft organ music is the soundtrack for the morning, as the waiting congregation begins to trickle into the church. There are tears, there are hugs, and then there’s me. Sitting in the balcony observing it all.

Believe it or not, I’ve never seen any of these people in my life. Not one familiar face in the building. It’s pretty clear that whoever made the arrangements for the funeral overestimated the reach of the deceased, as half of the church remains empty throughout the service. I watch as a few people get up to make their remarks regarding the deceased, remembering him as an electric, yet mysterious personality. There weren’t many memories shared, few stories to go around. He kept to himself and made sure everyone knew about it.

A preacher gets up to deliver a message of comfort for whatever family did happen to come out to say their goodbyes. The primary theme of what he had to say is to trust and follow God while you can. This part of the service hits me especially hard, as if I’m sitting next to God himself while listening to his words. I know religion is a touchy subject for everyone, but I feel that we all have to believe in something, and ultimately someone. If you feel you’re the most powerful entity in your life, you’ll never hold yourself accountable. And if you won’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Once the preacher finishes, His voice calls out to me, telling me it’s time. I make my way down into the main sanctuary, walking straight down the center aisle. Gasps and questions fly from the pews as I make my way up to the podium. I don’t have any words prepared, there really is no way to prepare for this. The preacher stares wide eyed as I take his place at the podium, heart racing as I turn to the waiting congregation.

“On behalf of...well, myself, I’d like to thank you all for coming out. Your stories and kind words have made this day a joyous occasion. The love you all had for me is something that will carry me through this life. As you’ve all made it known, I’ve got a difficult road ahead. Life won’t always be as easy as it’s been today, being on the outside looking in as the adulation and love flows through this service. I know now I’ll have to do the work. I hope...I pray that I can become even half the man that you guys think I was. If you take nothing with you from this service, take this with you. Remember to live life backwards. Make up in your mind early on the type of person you aspire to be remembered as. Think of the impact you want to have on this place, in the lives of your friends, family, and others. And have that impact, right now. Because next time, it may be you laying up here. And a lot sooner than you thought you would.”

Once I’ve finished talking, the church is completely quiet, I suppose everyone needed time to process what they were seeing and hearing. The funeral must go on, so the preacher goes to open up the casket, preparing the congregation for the parting view. I step down from the pulpit and shuffle a few steps until I’m in front of the big, black casket. The preacher steps aside, leaving me to stand beside the body. I peer down and smile within as I stare into the only face in this building that I recognize at all. This face looks relaxed, as if death didn’t catch him by surprise. Looking at this face, I could only rationalize that he was at perfect peace, wherever his soul resides now. I just hope that comfort, peace, rest continues beyond today.

I look to the back of the church once I hear Him asking me if I’m ready to get started now. I nod and look back to this body laying before me. “See you in about 30 years. Same time, same place.” I whisper into my ear as I go to leave these strangers to mourn the man I’m soon to become. Their eyes follow me as I follow Him back down the aisle to the back of the church. The doors open to the brightest light I could even imagine. Standing with Him in that light, the wind circles me, sounding as if it’ll sweep me away. And then...silence. I open my eyes, and He says “Ready? You’re going back tomorrow.” I take a deep breath and nod, following Him into the unknown. Ready to live backwards.

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“So, you’ve seen how it ends. Only person who can do something about it is you,” He says, pacing the floor in front of me. “The decisions you make along the way, good or bad, will either ensure that THAT is the way it all ends for you, or changes your narrative. You’ve been given an opportunity that very few have, young man. You’ve seen the consequences of your actions, while being given the opportunity to avoid those actions. You’ve got a chance to change your entire life, before you even begin to live it. Do not mess this up.”

I can’t tell if it’s a blessing or a curse, knowing how your story ends. Knowing that no matter how you change course along the way, the end result and the destination will be the same. I could be the best man imaginable, a true angel walking this earth, and it wouldn’t add a day to my life. Could be the picture of health and my body will still shut down that day. I suppose at least I’ll know to be more careful, to stop and enjoy life, and appreciate all that it brings.

“You won’t have a typical life. Things will go a lot....quicker for you. I’ll be dropping you into the most important moments of your life. The moments that lead to yesterday. Some of these decisions you make will be the right ones. Others will not. Sometimes, you’ll know the difference. Others, you won’t. Your life along the way will truly be yours to direct. But it will end on the exact day it was written to. Nothing can change this. The decisions you make along the way will decide how this life will be remembered. Make it count.”

“How do I know I won’t mess it up? Again?” I had to ask what was on my mind. I’ve thought about this ever since I sat through my funeral. If I’m going to go through the same situations, how do I know I’ll actually do it differently this time? “You don’t. Like I said, some of these things, you’ll know to do or not to do. Sometimes, you’ll have no idea. There won’t be a little red buzzer that goes off to tell you you’d done the wrong thing. No bell or fireworks or confetti to say you got it right. Just...live,” he says, before stopping and glancing over his shoulder at me. “By the way, who’s to say you messed up the first time? What if you lived a life that millions would die for? You’ll never know, really. Just live it.”

I’m ready. Even if I wasn’t, it was time to get ready. After going to stand beside Him, I look to him for reassurance. “Live backwards. Just make sure you live. See you in about 30 years.” He put his hand on my chest and I feel a jolt of energy course through my body. That blinding, piercing light follows, giving way to screams and what seems to be directions from another voice. I can tell that I’m getting close. Next thing I see is the blinding light give way to faces, smiling down at me. “He’s beautiful,” my father tells my mother as she holds me. I’m here.

Day 1.

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