All I said to Greg was "Who died?" As in, conversationally. As in, our good friends were called away to a funeral and I want to know how somber I should feel. Not as in, let's unravel the very long rope of mortality and pluck at each mysterious strand, right here at this very moment, when mommy's afternoon coffee has worn off and the taco soup is scorching on the stove.
But that is precisely what happened. I said, "Who died?" and Toby burst into tears, spraying us with worms from the can I'd opened.
"Did somebody die?" and "Am I going to die?" and "When am I going to die?"
Greg and I were completely unprepared. He was crying so violently, so out of nowhere. Greg scooped him into his lap to calm him down. I sat beside them both stroking Toby's arm, searching for a possible trajectory. How could he even know what "died" meant?!
"Am I going to die?" he said again.
Greg and I looked Toby straight in the eye and answered confidently "No!" [Greg] and "Someday..." [me]. What?! I shot Greg my subliminal indignation. Liar liar pants on fire.
Heartless messenger of evil, Greg shot back.
Clearly we had no plan. We sat for a moment, dumbfounded, watching Toby sob. Neither of us had a clue where to start, so we opted to board the Joy Bus through the valley of death like good Christian parents. "Let's focus on Heaven! and Living Forever With God!"
"Will it hurt when I die? Is Charlie going to die? How long will I be dead?"
"Heaven is super-fun! God is awesome to be with!"
He cried so hard that the hangy thing in the back of his throat wiggled with every wail. "How am I going to die? I don't want to die..."
It was more gut-wrenching than Beaches and Bridge to Terabithia together. How could we explain death and eternity to a four-year-old? Ten minutes before he was yelling "Come wipe me!" and now he was Socratically dissecting his own fate.
We whizzed through all the death scriptures we knew. "...conform to His death...?" "The wages of sin is death...?" Then we remembered this: "...Jesus, who has destroyed death..." That phrase became the pot in which we planted our integrity. We could look him in the eye and say "Dying is really scary, but don't worry little man, Jesus wins."
Then we all went to Sonic for a cherry limeade.
1 week ago