I almost didn’t write this, because I don’t know that I have the right to. Others are experiencing a depth of grief at losing Nicholas Smith that I cannot imagine — the loss of a son, a brother, a boyfriend, a best friend. People keep asking me if I knew Nicholas well, and every time I’ve felt a pang of regret at answering, “No, not too well.” He was a beau for my club, and we were on a first-name basis. We waved at each other in the hallway, made small talk, excitably discussed Doctor Who once in a while. That was all. I wish I could go back.
Nevertheless, Nicholas blessed me while he was here and is continuing to bless me now, even from so far away. I feel like I need to write this — I need to thank him for it somehow.
I did spend plenty of time near Nicholas, if not really with him. He rarely missed a Chi Kappa Rho meeting or function; we must have been in the same room countless times. Most of my memories of him are not interactions between us, but moments I was simply there to witness. Last fall at a mixer in the McInteer, I turned around to see him dangling from the first platform of the rotunda stairs. He had jumped up when no one was looking to grab the lip of the landing with his lanky arms. During club week, he performed an energetic lip-synch of The Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” complete with original choreography. He must have loved BOX, but I saw firsthand how much he loved Chi Kappa Rho.
He made us laugh. He was so alive.
When we got the news that Nicholas had been killed, it seemed impossible. I have never known anyone who died who wasn’t supposed to. Several years ago we lost my grandpa after a long, slow battle with cancer — an altogether different kind of loss. Long before Grandpa passed, I understood that he was going to die. Nicholas’ death made no sense, still makes no sense. Death happens to the elderly, or to the sick, or at least to people I don’t know. It doesn’t happen to people like Nicholas, so full of energy and promise.
On Sunday night I found myself next to a roaring fire, commemorating Nicholas’ life with my XKP sisters and with his brothers in BOX. It had been a rainy weekend, and the wood had been damp. As someone poured kerosene onto the logs, the flames would flare a brilliant orange, leaping up to catch the lip of the black country sky. When the kerosene burned off, they would diminish again until only a crackling, reddish glow remained.
Huddled around the fire, we began to sing — not songs of mourning, but songs like “Be Unto Your Name” and “Awesome God.” It struck me as odd at first; I had expected “Blessed Be Your Name,” something that on the loss we all shared. But instead, we sang to God about Himself, His power and faithfulness, His salvation and protection.
Something began to stir in my heart as we sang those words, a realization. In Greek there are two different words for “know.” The word οιδα means a factual knowledge, but γινωσκω means a knowledge received from experience. Oιδα means that I know the Eiffel Tower exists; γινωσκω means I have stood at the top and gazed over the rooftops of Paris.
I have οιδα knowledge of God’s promise to save me, that when the angel of death comes for me he will see the blood of Christ on my doorframe and pass over my soul. I believe in the truth of that promise. But Nicholas, so full of life, so drenched in God’s grace — Nicholas has γινωσκω now, a depth of knowledge that I can’t ever have here. Nicholas looked into the eyes of death and saw that it had no power over him. Now that he has seen the face of God, he is beyond doubt’s reach.
I envy Nicholas that, because sometimes my faith feels weak and faded. Sometimes οιδα doesn’t seem to cut it, and the beautiful promises start to sound like worn-out clichés. But standing by the bonfire, something stoked the dying embers in my heart and breathed the life back into them. I fiercely believed those promises in that moment, because I know Nicholas. Though I can’t know anything about heaven by experience yet, I know someone who is there at this very moment, gazing with adoration into the face of his Savior. It’s like getting a postcard from the Eiffel Tower. I’ve never been there, but I’m sure it exists — someone I know is there right now.
Thank you, Nicholas, for your life — and thank you for the postcard. Someday I’ll meet you there.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” -Hebrews 12:1