A psalm on the death of an eighteen-year-old son...

What waste Lord
this ointment precious
here outpoured
is treasure great
beyond my mind to think.
For years
until this midnight
it was safe
contained awaiting careful use
now broken
wasted
lost.
The world is poor
so poor it needs each drop
of such a store.
This treasure spent
might feed a multitude
for all their days
and then yield more.

This world is poor?
It’s poorer now
the treasure’s lost.
I breath its lingering fragrance
soon even that
will cease.
What purpose served?
The act is void of reason
sense
Lord
madmen do such deeds
not sane.
The sane man hoards his treasure
spends with care
if good
to feed the poor
or else to feed himself.
Let me alone Lord
You’ve taken from me
what I’d give Your world.
I cannot see such waste
that You should take
what poor men need.
You have a heaven
full of treasure
could You not wait
to exercise Your claim
on this?

O spare me Lord
forgive
that I may see
beyond this world
beyond myself
Your sovereign plan
or seeing not
may trust You
Spoiler of my treasure.
Have mercy Lord
here is my quitclaim.

-Joe Bayly

* * *

This poem was written on the ocassion of the death of our oldest brother, Joe, who was the third of our parents' children to die. Joe died at nineteen. He was a sophomore at Swarthmore College and godly. It was a blow our family, and particularly my father, did not recover from for many years. It's always seemed to me that this poem Dad wrote is fit for our meditation on the great sacrifice the Father Almighty made in sending His Only Begotten Son to the Cross, and thus my posting it here on Good Friday.

Here is C. Everett Koop's tribute to Dad having observed this loss he sustained.

(TB)

* * *

In the economy of God and in His sovereignty He puts certain people among us who will be up to the task He will place before them. Joe Bayly was such a man. He was my friend. He was the father of several of my patients. Three separate times I shared with him the bone-crushing grief when three of his children died. Indeed, as a surgeon I was involved in one way or another with each of these tragic deaths—deaths that to some people seemed as humanly unavoidable as they were tragic.

What was the real Joe Bayly like in the midst of drinking deeply from the cup of sorrow? He was like he always was—concerned for the spiritual welfare of others, available to go the extra mile for a friend (when it should have been the other way around), and apparently unflappable. Yet, entirely human.

No one could have lived through the sorrow of Joe Bayly’s life with such equanimity without an abundant portion of the grace of God—which of course Joe acknowledged. But I said he was human.

Joe reminded me of Jesus praying in the 26th chapter of Matthew. God the Son talking with God the Father, and while mindful of his divine mission, nonetheless talking about the suffering to come in most human terms.

Joe wasn’t a dishrag that said “Thank you, Father” as each new blow was rained down upon him. He was human. He knew it was part of a sovereign plan of God but he hated it—naturally. After all didn’t Joe write Psalms of My Life and like the biblical psalmist run the gamut of emotion from wonder to sorrow to questioning to rebellion. . .finally to acceptance and praise? That was Joe.

Joe’s eldest son always stood out from the crowd. When the boy wrote his essay for the National Merit Scholarship competition, it was about his faith in Christ. When he went to secular college, his testimony was strong and clear, while his winsome personality and personal achievement attracted not only those who shared his faith but also those who didn’t.

When he sustained a minor bump while sledding, his hemophilia allowed uncontrollable internal hemorrhage to threaten his life. When the young man lay dying in a suburban hospital near Philadelphia, Joe called me to ask that I see his son in consultation. It was too late. For the third time in my career I told the same friend that his child was just a step away from heaven.

As I drove home from the hospital, I was terribly burdened, saddened by the apparent unfairness of it all. I was only the surgeon; Joe was the father. What unspeakable thoughts must have been going through his mind. And yet as I left him at the hospital elevator, he was apparently stoic, certainly resigned, at once a figure most pitiable, but among his son's attendants a tower of strength. That was Joe Bayly. No wonder he was the source of so much sage advice to the countless young people who sought his counsel over the years.

The memorial service for that boy in the Blue Church in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, was the most heart-wrenching, yet triumphant, hour I can remember. The church was packed not only with Joe’s friends, but also with all the new friends his son had made at college. These young people felt inexplicably deprived of a truly unique person to whom they had become unusually attached, but whose special view of life—and death—they could not understand.

After few preliminaries, Joe Bayly went to the front of the church. The lump in my throat was so large I could barely swallow. The lump in Joe’s throat was so large he could barely talk. But he did, and his opening words are burned forever in my mind: “I want to speak to you tonight about my earthy son and his Heavenly Father. . .”

Joe poured out his heart. Tears streamed down the faces of almost everyone present. That night, the message Joe brought to his son’s college friends started a large number of them down a path in search of what Joe and his son had—and many of them found it in faith in Jesus Christ. That was Joe Bayly.

C. Everett Koop, M.D.

October, 1991

Comments

Thank you for sharing this - both the psalm and the tribute to your father.

A family from our church just suddenly lost their two year old son, so this is timely and poignant.

I met Joe Bayly once at a dinner for college students, and enjoyed meeting him so much since I had devoured his "I Saw Gooley Fly." Later, "Psalms of My Life" became part of my mental reference library. This psalm became especially meaningful to me when my oldest son Ben died of melanoma at 33. He was full of life, never resigned to anything but recovery, yet deeply concerned for the spiritual lives of college students. He lived his faith with such enthusiasm. These words reflect how I felt living out this deep loss:
Let me alone Lord
You’ve taken from me
what I’d give Your world.
I cannot see such waste
that You should take
what poor men need.
You have a heaven
full of treasure
could You not wait
to exercise Your claim
on this?
And yet I know that God is in charge, and that nothing is wasted, and that, because of Jesus who poured out his precious life for Ben, and for us, death will finally be vanquished, and life will be abundant and forever.

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