Four years ago last Sunday, my best friend (other than my wife) of 27 years died in a tragic drowning accident. His name was Matt Auten. He was 45. He left behind an amazing wife and two sons. He also left behind a tremendous impact on my life, so much so that rarely a day goes by without some memory or thought that is tied to what he meant to me. What's interesting is that in the past four years his absence has influenced me just as much or more than his presence did before. So I hope you don't mind if I share some thoughts that I wrote not long after he died.
I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia more times than I can remember. There is one scene that happens repeatedly, to different characters in different books, but it always brought a deep and heavy sadness to me. Aslan would share with certain children that they would not be returning to Narnia. As a child observing these events I could never figure out why that would be. Narnia was so good…it was the one place that despite difficulties, hardship, and even battles, these children felt fully alive. The thought of knowing that Narnia really existed but never coming back seemed to me to be a burden too heavy to bear.
I realized something this week. Matt Auten was my Narnia. He was the wardrobe through which I entered another world, a world where I felt fully alive. It was full of everything that really mattered. With Matt there was heartache and joy, purpose and questioning, deeper magic, creation that was alive and interactive, and music that pulled it all together in one joyous, longing, painful, yet hopeful experience. The strange thing was that the more I visited that other world the better I understood and could cope with this one. I wonder if it was the same thing for the Pevensie children?
Well last Tuesday afternoon I had my chat with Aslan. He told me I would never return to Narnia. And the grieving has been harder and deeper than I ever expected. I’d use words like suffocating and oppressive if I wasn’t so humbled by what Amy and the boys are experiencing. At Matt’s Memorial I met friends I didn’t know I had. I realized that we shared a deep connection even if we only met for the first time that day. We were all suffering and we understood. When they spoke I knew that they had seen the same things I had seen. We had shared experience even though we had never met.
I still feel as if it’s a very bad dream. But it’s not, and life goes on for those of us in this world. But there is one thing that brings hope. I did “finish the book”, I did “read to the ending”, and in The Last Battle everyone (except Susan) does come back. But it’s not to the old Narnia, it’s a totally new Narnia. Lewis describes it this way…
And I know that one day I will see Matt again. A new Matt…one that “means more”. We will live in the real world together. More real than we can even know now, or at least than I can know now. I look forward to that day. A day when these words will come….
This story that I am living…that Matt is living…this gives me hope. And so for now Matt…goodbye. You were an instrument of God in my life and everything I do bears your fingerprints. But when the real life comes I look forward to running with you further up and further in.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Rev. 21:5)
Want to know more about Matt, check out the audio below or get a whole lot of his music here.