June 11, 2016, 9:02 PM

Among many other happenings during my time in college, here are two:

  1. I first discovered Christina Grimmie’s YouTube channel (this video in particular) where she posted videos of her singing, and
  2. I began to adopt a distanced and unattached mindset about death.

I remember driving along Walker Road on my way into campus one afternoon, flipping the question around in my mind like a quarter over my knuckles (something I admittedly cannot do very well): “How should I think about death?” What I was specifically thinking through was if I could mitigate the effects of death, of any loss, really. Could I position myself (mentally or otherwise) such that the death or loss, even (especially?) of the people or things I cared about most deeply wouldn’t have a crippling effect, if any effect at all. For a moment, put aside deep Theological considerations of death* — this was an internal dialogue being moderated by the engineering side of my brain, not a final position I was holding to. It was practical recoil from seemingly omnipresent pain. But, to be honest, some of the results of this musing did cement in my mind. Can I insulate myself from those emotions? For better or worse I decided to try to, at least in part. Another significant preface — I recognize that then and even now I have not had to face much direct exposure to death, though my family and friends’ experiences have given me a dim window into what it looks and feels like. Perhaps this was a driving factor in what I was seeking to do. Dark clouds on the plains mean storms, and storms eventually break.

Christina Grimmie was murdered today. A number of newsstories can expound on the details but in summary, a man came up to her after a show in Orlando while she was meeting fans and signing autographs, and pulled a gun out and shot her. She died shortly thereafter in a nearby hospital. I found out from an Instagram post by Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5 and her coach on season six of The Voice. At first I was confused. Some groups of words combine to makes sentences you can’t make sense of. But Google searches and trending hashtags confirmed — this 22-year-old singer had been killed.

I don’t know Christina. I’ve only watched her story unfold from behind phones and computers and TV screens. I’ve long had a soft spot for YouTube videos and people who attempt to cover popular music in creative ways or to showcase their talents. She was one of the first, along with groups like Boyce Avenue, and certainly one of my favorites. Her cover of “Just A Dream” with Sam Tsui was, in my estimation, the best example of this. I loved that cover, and still do. From YouTube “fame”, a huge turning point was when I heard that she had made it on NBC’s The Voice singing show in 2013. It was so exciting because I felt like I was getting to watch and cheer on from afar. She knocked out her audition and continued to perform jaw-dropping renditions of songs. While she ended up finishing third that season, it was so cool to watch — even if it is absurd, I, along with a lot of my friends and countless other fans, felt connected to her and her journey.

My first reaction when I found out she was killed was to text some other people who liked her. Their reactions were all variations of “what?!” and “no way…that’s so sad!”, mirroring my own sentiments. All of the people connected to her, famous singers she had met or performed or toured with, and her friends and community from YouTube were expressing their shock and disbelief and prayers, tweeting out #RIPChristina. But as the day progressed and I thought about it more, sadness morphed into grief and horror and panic, for two distinct reasons. First and foremost, I was realizing that this talented, beautiful, funny, kind, and bright 22-year-old girl had her life stolen from her, as my brother accurately lamented. I know that death is a part of life…but murder…even just the word, used in its literal context, is chilling and sickening. She should still be alive — this was sudden and senseless. In a moment, she is gone. That singular thought, acting as a courier delievering a notice of unpaid emotional debt directly to my head and my heart demanding immediate attention, lead to the second reason**.

Thinking about Christina’s death opened a torrent of other thoughts and emotions. Other questions I’d passed by over the years but didn’t face head on suddenly caught up to me, revealing themselves to be looming, large and immoveable. Every trubute or posted video I saw reinforced a spinning, logic-defying question of “WHY?” It doesn’t make sense. Of course, what this really uncovered was the contact point between belief and reality, between worldview and life lived. I kept instinctively checking Twitter, in hindsight I think in hope of an explanation. I found guides for processing in two places.

Jon Foreman, a singer and one of the most significant thought influences in my life, tweeted:

The hashtag references a song, and though I knew it by heart, I still went straight to listen to it. The lyrics are relevant and valuable:

This air feels strange to me / Feeling like a tragedy
I take a deep breath and close my eyes / One last time
Storms on the wasteland / Dark clouds on the plains again
We were born into the fight
But I’m not sentimental / This skin and bones is a rental
And no one makes it out alive
Until I die I’ll sing these songs / On the shores of Babylon
Still looking for a home / In a world where I belong
Where the weak are finally strong / Where the righteous right the wrongs
Still looking for a home / In a world where I belong
Feels like we’re just waiting, waiting
While our hearts are just breaking, breaking
Feels like we’ve been fighting against the tide
This body’s not my own / This world is not my own
But I still can hear the sound / Of my heart beating out
So let’s go boys, play it loud
On the final day I die / I want to hold my head up high
I want to tell You that I tried / To live it like a song
And when I reach the other side / I want to look You in the eye
And know that I’ve arrived / In a world where I belong
I still believe we can live forever
You and I we begin forever now
Forever now

It continues to reflect more on the fact that while this world is not our home and our bodies themselves are temporary, mortal things, we do have a home we can journey toward. This concept helps me contextualize what is going on. When you are journeying home through a strange land, things won’t make sense along the way. Jon wrote this from a Christian worldview and perspective. Filling this out, Heaven is the home we long for, and a place we can get to not because of our efforts but because God Himself enables us to, through Jesus. The world where I truly belong is in actuality the very presence of God. I share Jon’s beliefs and worldview. So did Christina Grimmie. She was the second and most direct guide.

Christina was by all accounts I could measure a kind, loving, good person. But from what I know, she would be the first to recognize that the source of these traits was her faith in Jesus. On February 21, 2013, she tweeted:

Praise God.

I saw another person repost a video / cover she made a while back of the song “In Christ Alone”. The lyrics she sang also provide answers, and certainly comfort:
No guilt in life, no fear in death — 
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home — 
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

She knew she had no fear of death. She knew that no scheme of man, no matter how evil and twisted could pluck her from the security of the power of Christ. She knew either He would return or would call her home. He called her home.

Her death requires me to reflect deeply on these things (especially the question of how to say goodbye***) but for now I am encouraged and comforted by what she herself said and sang. Which by the way, she could sing. I will miss that.

She’s been called home, and on this, the day she died, she can hold her head up high — she’s arrived in a world where she belongs.

*These are important. These are what I’m wrestling with here.

**Here I’ll acknowledge my self-consciousness — I’m aware that tragedy is a common, regular, expected reality in life…not just tragedy but death, not just death but murder, and not just murder but senseless, unexplainable murder. People lose their closest loved ones to these things every single day all over the world. While Christina was not someone I knew personally, my thoughts reflect the fact that at various times in varying degrees and distance, I, like every human, will face these situations. I want to be sensitive to the people who have and are now facing it more direction than I do at the moment. But based on what I’ve read and seen from Christina over the years, I think she wouldn’t want to shy away from thinking about this.

**Something my cousin Karith grappled with beautifully here.