The call I dreaded came at 5:30 am, Saturday, November 12th. My worst fear was confirmed. My friend, Keith McPeck, had gone home to be with God. But as phone calls and e-mails began to pour in from all over the world, I knew that his thirty-five short years on earth had not been in vain.
Keith was born on July 30, 1976 in California. At age five, he and his brother moved to Tillson, NY, just minutes away from where I lived. My parents first met Keith and his buddy Toby when he was eight. But it wasn’t until he was in high school that I got to know him.
All my life since, I remember Keith coming over, just to hang out. He did this often. He’d have dinner with us, and especially loved my Mom’s banana cream pie. He would also join us on various outings and for special occasions. Keith would always bring some small gift along: ice cream, a whiffle ball and bat, or a candle for Mom.
Despite our age difference, Keith and I spent hours together. He would play ball and sled with me and my brother. In actual fact, he’d pretty much do whatever we were into. He was part of our family. He became my big brother.
One Christmas, he took me and my dad to Macy’s to buy hats and mittens for my Mom and sisters. On one Father’s Day, he brought over a friend. He wanted to celebrate with my Dad, so he brought the food and the lemonade – and the whiffle ball. But what I remember most was the lemonade.
But Keith didn’t just love our family. One time he wanted us to go visit Andreas – a elderly neighbor friend of ours who was dying of cancer. He would often go and visit with him. This time would be his last. Two hours after Keith left, Andreas passed away.
I loved Keith, but didn’t realize until a year or two ago that he was up against some pretty heavy challenges. As a young man whose family situation was often difficult, Keith battled with alcoholism, the disease that would later take his life. As the years passed, he was in and out of countless detox units, hospitals, and rehab centers. Oddly enough, he never lost his childlike way. He had a faith in God and trusted those he loved.
Several hundred people came to Keith’s wake. His life obviously meant something to many people. I don’t know in what way, but I do know that his short life made a difference in mine. And now, when I think of Keith, I think about what Jesus said in Matthew 25:
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
With these words, I can never think of Keith as being “good” or “bad”. Keith was more than an alcoholic. His life was not wasted. Keith was a baseball buddy, a big brother, a friend, and a crazy prankster. And despite all the many times he messed up, I’ll remember him most for the good times we had together – for the glass of lemonade he gave a thirsty boy, the hours of stick-ball, and how he reached out to lonely kids and elderly neighbors alike with his infectious laugh.