COUPLE OF YEARS AGO I TOOK A MOTORCYCLE SAFETY CLASS AT THE URGING of some friends. I wasn’t sure it would lead to anything, but a few months later I ended up buying a motorcycle.
Since then I’ve been asked, “What do you get out of riding a motorcycle?”
To which I reply: “It’s done wonders for my prayer life.”
Think about it: a motorcycle has no seat belts, no crumple zones, no fenders that would do any good in a “fender bender.” And early on, whenever I rode on Washington, D.C.’s Capital Beltway, my prayer was always, “God, my life is in Your hands.”
Over the last couple of years I’ve become more comfortable and more proficient while riding a motorcycle. But still, a lot of things can happen out on the highway—things over which I have no control.
For more than a dozen years Don, my best friend from college (he and his wife were in our wedding), and I toured some of the U.S. Civil War battlefields together. A few years ago we heard that one of our favorite tour leaders, Edwin C. Bearss, would be leading a tour of the Little Big Horn battlefields in Montana.
I don’t remember whose idea it was, but in one of our conversations we said, “We should ride our motorcycles to Montana. We could meet up (he from California, and I from Maryland) and do some riding together.”
So last summer I rode my motorcycle to Montana, a 2,000-mile trip (one way). Every morning when I climbed on my bike, I prayed, “God, my life is in Your hands.” And every evening when I checked into a Motel 6 or a Super 8, I prayed, “Thank You, God, for preserving my life.”
A few weeks before the trip, Don sent me an e-mail: “I’ll probably buy [some] domestic peace and drive up [in a rental car].” It didn’t matter. We shared a hotel room; and when we weren’t touring the battlefields we talked about life, relationships, sports, religion, books, politics, movies—all the things best friends talk about.
Last May Don and his wife were in Washington, D.C., where Bonna attended a professional convention. Don had arranged to rent a motorcycle, and we planned to do some touring. The weather didn’t cooperate, so we drove to some of the historical sites around Washington, D.C.
Our last stop was at Congressional Cemetery, where, under a steady rain, I took him and Bonna to the final resting place of J. Edgar Hoover, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; John Philip Sousa, longtime director of the United States Marine Band; and Matthew Brady, Civil War photographer.
A month later Don was dead, killed in a traffic accident while riding his motorcycle.
Life is such a tentative thing. It doesn’t come with a guarantee. Every day people leave their homes never to return. We had no control over when and where we were born, and most of us have no control over the circumstances of our deaths. Death is a reminder that our lives are not our own; they’re gifts we enjoy day by day. And length of life is no indication of God’s favor: godly people are as prone to die prematurely as anyone else.
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves,” wrote the apostle Paul. “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:7, 8, NRSV).*
I don’t want to die. But when I do my life is in God’s hands. Don’s death was a terrible blow to those of us who knew and loved him. But I draw comfort from the fact that his life is in God’s hands.
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ” 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
Stephen Chavez is managing editor of Adventist Review. This article was published November 26, 2009.