No Greater Love
“Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life…”
- John 15:13
You may not have heard of Joe Delaney.
Or, if so, you may have forgotten. Memory can be a tricky thing.
Delaney was a football running back for the NFL Kansas City Chiefs. In two seasons, he set four franchise records that stood for more than twenty years.
But what he will be most remembered for is something unrelated to football.
On June 29, 1983, he went with friends to Critter’s Creek, an amusement center in Monroe, LA. The park contained a two-acre pond, six feet deep. In spite of admonitions and some weakly worded warning signs, three children, whom Delaney did not know, ventured into the water. Shortly thereafter, they cried out for help.
Delaney’s life had been marked by altruism. Despite being unable to swim, he, without hesitation, dived into the water, attempting rescue.
The result? One child ended up exiting the water without harm. Another was taken to a local ER, where he died. Police recovered the body of Delaney and that of the remaining child.
At Delaney’s funeral, which was attended by 3000, President Ronald Reagan honored Delaney with the Presidential Citizens Medal and said: “He made the ultimate sacrifice by placing the lives of three children above regard for his own safety.”
Delaney left behind a wife and two children.
Decades later, reverberations of that tragedy, like those from a pebble dropped in a pond, yet ripple.
Her father died during the war — the one which followed the ‘war to end all wars’ — when his ship was hit by a torpedo from a U-boat. She kept a faded photo of a man in military uniform holding a little girl who gazed up at him with adoring eyes.
Her mother remarried and had another daughter. Being of different temperaments, and separated by 13 years, the two half-sisters often squabbled.
She couldn’t wait to get out of the house when the time came — away from her stepfather (who, as time went on, had looked at her with less than benevolent eyes), her conniving mother (who derived perverse pleasure from conflict between her two daughters), her bratty sister (whom her parents favored).
It seemed as if she, ever afterward, looked for her birth father.
She took up with an older black Cuban. Despite his abuse, she stayed. He was to be the father of her first child.
Along with other women in varied circumstance, she bore a son at a county hospital, a dingy place with many women in one room, some wailing, some moaning, all great with child.
She was alone, as a part of her always had been. And ever would be.
But her parents were ashamed. They couldn’t contemplate the notion of having a brown grandson, one of color.
So, for a time, they took him away, not telling her his whereabouts.
She eventually got him back, but her relationship with her mother was ever thereafter tainted by that memory.
She and her son lived together. Where didn’t matter. A garage. Somewhere else. They were best friends. He, unlike most others, understood her.
A talented and multifaceted woman, she landed a recording contract with a major record company.
Her boyfriend at the time was an attorney. He promised to help her review the contract, so, one afternoon, she drove into the hills above the city to his home.
While she reviewed papers in his office, her son played in the outdoor pool. He tried to keep crickets from falling into the water, but was not himself water safe.
Sometime later, she checked on him, calling out his name.
She found him face down on the bottom of the pool, a cricket lying near him.
Her keening began as a wail that crescendoed into something animalistic and whose decibels could not be measured.
He was six.
Every year thereafter, on his birthday, sometimes in unexpected places, she’d see a cricket, or grasshopper. It wouldn’t stay long — just long enough,
But she didn’t really need the reminder.
The darkness that had spilled onto the tapestry of her being was indelible. With time, the stain faded, but never disappeared. Her tabula would never be rasa.
A long time ago, in another place, another person died.
Not in water, for He could walk on it. He commanded peace, and it obeyed. Water held no terror.
In an earlier time, the fountains of the deep were released, and it rained so hard in both directions for two score days and nights the earth was covered. All but the fish of the sea and those aboard a floating barge of 300 cubits length perished.
He may have well been instrumental in that event.
At another time water parted long enough for 600,000 to cross on land normally hidden beneath it. He was there, too.
And at another time water sprang from a desert rock in response to a word (or rod) to quench the thirst of those whose memory of the fleshpots of Egypt was long, but whose remembrance of the parting of the Red Sea was short. Was He absent on that occasion? I think not.
Water, in hands of the Master, transmogrified into wine so fine wedding guests at Cana wondered why it had not been served earlier.
He proclaimed Himself the water of life, living water, the ultimate thirst quencher.
Those who grasped the veracity of that claim were the marginalized, the poor in body and spirit, the moral and physical lepers, the despised and those of ill repute.
The wind of the Spirit blew over them in a way it did not over the lives of most of the religious leaders of the day, the rich, the privileged; those of high rank. Having eyes, they would not see. Having ears, they would not hear.
So no, it was not water from which He perished.
It was something else.
Some say that, had the above not taken place, someone would have invented a similar story.
Perhaps so, but whoever did might not have imagined events unfolding in the manner they are recorded in Holy Writ. Leave out one ingredient, and the recipe’s not the same.
The mind of the Almighty transcends that of man. By how much we can only imagine. Or not.
His ways are not our ways. We can only aspire to, never reach, the lofty heights in which He dwells.
There are some things we are not given to understand. Not now. Maybe ever.
Like those whose tales are told here (and they are but a sampling; there are countless others), He gave up life that others might live.
Who can resist such a story?