Memoir by Michael Usey
28 December 2013
It’s a hard and painful thing to bury a friend who dies unexpectedly at 41. Most of us saw Chris just 10 days ago at our Christmas banquet, with Christopher in tow, the two were looking sharp. Chris had Christopher live by ZZ Top’s credo, “The whole world’s crazy about a sharp dressed man.”
What to say when someone as young as Chris dies the day before Christmas with his beloved son asleep next to him? We’re careful not to say things offer false comfort, or things about which we cannot know. I don’t believe God took him, or that his death was part of some divine plan, or any nonsense like that. We do all owe God a death, and one day we all surely die. Chris died of coronary artery disease, and his smoking surely hastened his demise.
Some hard and painful experiences in our lives are simply the result of our being finite creatures. It is part of our creaturely existence that there is decay as well as growth, age as well as youth, loss as well as gain, pain as well as pleasure, sickness as well as health, death as well as birth. Creaturely life at best is fragile, vulnerable, and temporary. Scripture is quite honest about this. Human beings are like the flowers of the field that blossom, live for a while, then wither and die. Some suffering and death is the result of our own or others’ actions, but according to scripture, suffering and death as such are not evil. Death may not be our friend, but death is not our enemy. Death only means that we are creatures and not God. Unlike the Creator, we creatures do not live forever.
The vulnerability of our lives is painful and hard to bear—especially when life seems to end too soon. But death is a terrible problem only for those who cannot accept the fact that we are creatures and not gods, those who do not know what a compassionate and just God can do within the limitations of our lives, and those who do not know that God’s will for our good is finally stronger than the worst that can happen to us, including death itself.
But, for those of us who loved Chris Moquin his death was way too early. We were just getting to know Chris well here at College Park. He was just beginning to work again—he had just gotten a job at Fred’s, after too many months of being unemployed. His hard work as a father was beginning to bloom in Christopher’s life. For us, Chris’ life is one that was cut tragically short, but a short life which we did see God’s love clearly.
Chris was born May 3, 1972, and adopted soon afterwards by a loving couple named Norm and Barbara. He was raised in Shelburne, Vermont, a satellite village of Burlington, where he grew up playing sports of all kinds—soccer, basketball, football, wrestling—so it should be clear where young Christopher his son gets his promising athlete ability. He was, in Barbara’s words, a marvel.
Chris grew up in an American Baptist Church much like this one, First Baptist Burlington. He was active in the youth group there, taking youth mission trips and even went to the national youth conference one year in California, for which he had to raise much of his own funds by washing windows and doing yard work. He played hand bells at that church as a young person, and he and another boy wanted to continue on with the bells so they were invited to be a part of the adult hand bells as a youth. Had I known this about Chris, I would have loaded him in the gun to be a part of our bell choir here, and with him ringing, we could have easily changed the name to Hell’s Bells. Can you just this tall bald guy with Maori arm ink ringing the giant bells? I would have liked to see that.
Norm, Chris’ father, was the financial secretary of the church, and later Chris himself would teach Sunday school. As a youth, he walked his mother into church, making sure she was okay. Chris was ever the good loving son.
Even as a youth, there were events that showed Chris’ true character. When he was 14, their pastor and his wife had adopted a daughter. She didn’t have the same skin color as many of the other kids, and one day some of the youth were bullying her; they had taken her coat and were dangling it over a ledge, threatening to drop it. Chris came upon the scene, sternly told the others to knock it off, grabbed her coat from them and gave it back to the girl. This would not be the only time he stood up for her, as she was a target of bullies. The minister’s wife was deeply grateful of Chris looking out for her daughter, and said so to him and to Barbara. But this incident illustrates one of Chris’ primary strengths: he was a protector of others—of his mother, of Amber, of his son.
When Norm died when Chris was only 16, his life changed not for the better. This was probably the hardest moment of his life, June 27, 26 years ago. After high school, Chris went in the Navy in the early 90s, doing basic in Orlando. He was stationed on the USS Belleau Wood, whose nickname was Devil Dog, and Bill Ingold remarked to me how appropriate that would have been for Chris. The ship was named after the battle of Belleau Wood in WW1. She is a Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship with multi-functions including a helicopter-landing platform. Devil Dog could land elements of a Marine Corps battalion landing team by amphibious landing craft or helicopters, with a crew of 900. Chris was a fireman, among other jobs in his two years in the Navy, doing tours in South Korea and Hawaii and patrolling the North Korean coast. He was in the reserves for years afterwards, and he enjoyed his time there. In fact, he really wished he would have stayed in and made it a career.
When he was out, he returned to Burlington, did some college, and worked at Big Daddy’s Pizza. Worked his way up, until he was the manager and trusted by the owner. It was there Chris learned to cook and he was an excellent one. The night before he died he cooked Christopher and Barbara a huge Christmas meal. Chris always made too much food, and could cook for an army. He was also a volunteer firefighter there in Vermont, and at one pointed he wanted to make a career out of it.
Chris didn’t like the deep cold of the North—an odd trait for a Vermonter, but one this San Diego minister can totally understand. He moved here about 10 years ago. He met Amber when they were both working at a gas station; in fact, he’d hang around the place when he wasn’t working just to chat her up. It wasn’t long before he got the nerve to ask her out. They were married in 2005, and had their son together almost a year later.
Chris worked at TIMCO for years. He started out as an installer, installing things like seats for example. Then he became a trainer to other installers. His bosses, impressed by his hard work, liked him. Finally he became a certified expediter, someone who had to make sure all the parts needed for a repair or refit were there and ready when the plane came to them. It was a complex job that required a lot of juggling, patience, attention to detail, and careful skills to work with a variety of suppliers. Chris did his job well, by all reports.
Chris left TIMCO when he was being moved to second shift, which would all but taken Christopher out of his life. Hindsight is 20/20, and this turned out to be a terrible decision as the national economy went into the dirt for the longest time. But Chris made this decision out of his great love for his son, and his deep dedication to being a good father.
Of course, Chris was happiest when he was being a dad to Christopher. They shared many adventures. Lately they had both shared a love of football, following the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, who are doing well so far this year. Chris coached Christopher’s flag football team, and the team went all the way to the championship game this year. They beat the very tough undefeated team in the semi-final, and Christopher had made some key plays—I remember Chris’ extreme pride describing some of his son’s tackles and his full body descriptions. I know some of the men of College Park saw that game too. Father and son were looking forward to this year when Christopher aged into tackle football. Chris was fully alive when he was with his son.
Some of us thought Chris was sometimes too hard on his son, that he had expectations greater than Chris’ age would allow, and I think this was true. But he wanted Christopher to be polite and kind, tough and ready for a difficult and often confusing world. And what we all noticed was that Christopher could already give his dad as good as he got. Christopher has Chris’ playful nature and can already give his tough guy 1000-yard stare.
Chris and I were friends. We shared many small talks and a few long ones. He talked about his frustrations, his fears, his hopes and dreams. He was trying hard to be good follower of Jesus, which is not for the faint of heart. I loved how Chris would give me this tough guy look sometimes and this strong handshake, but when we laughed about something, his whole body shook and his rough look disappeared into a wicked grin.
We all thought we would see Chris’ pride as Christopher grew up into the fine young man he was already becoming. I grew up in a church in San Diego that had men like Chris: ex-Navy guys with ink who were bikers in black dusters and who were polite and kind, and who were also great fathers. He had friends here; he was just learning to find his place in this church, since College Park was far enough from his trailer to be spendy to get here.
I don’t believe in praying to the dead, but I do believe in talking to them. Chris, we didn’t know these were our last days with you. We all had already planned to see you coach your son in tackle, and to celebrate the Panthers victories. You were a good man with us, an excellent son to your mother, and a fine caring father to Christopher. In so far as it’s in our power, we will continue to love and care for Christopher, whom we too love very much. I am sorry you will not be here to see the man you have already help him become. We miss you already, my friend. You are gone too soon from us. By the mercies of Jesus Christ, we hope to see you again. Godspeed on your journey into the love and eternity of our God.
A Meaningless Death
By Bill Ingold
There are many things that can be said about Chris’ death. First, it was untimely, both in terms of his & Christopher’s ages, and in terms of the season of the year in which it occurred.
It was out of the blue with no warning and no chance to cope. He was too good a man for this to happen to. He wasn’t ready…it wasn’t supposed to be his time.
It makes us ask why this happened, and makes us mad when there doesn’t appear to be an answer to that question.
It may make us question whether God had a hand in it, or even if He exists…how could He let this happen?
It isn’t fair to Chris. It isn’t fair to Christopher. It isn’t fair to Barbara, or to Amber.
By God, it’s a meaningless death and it just isn’t fair!
Yes, we could say all of those things about Chris’ death. It isn’t fair and it was meaningless.
But let me suggest that instead of focusing on his death, we focus on his life. Let’s not look for meaning in how he died, but rather for lessons in how he lived.
Chris taught us not to judge others based on first impressions. I’m a retired cop, and you can imagine my initial reaction the first time Chris walked into this church. The beard, the earrings, the tattoos, the biker boots…all I could think of was that I am too old to go a round or two with this guy.
So, imagine my surprise (and relief!) when he stuck out his hand, called me “sir,” and introduced himself and his young son. He was polite, not provocative; respectful, not rebellious; and calm, not confrontational. Right away my preconceived, stereotypical notions were dissolved…this guy was a gentleman worth getting to know!
If you were around Chris for more than 2 minutes, then you know the second thing his life taught us: center your world around your children. Chris knew we only get one shot at raising good kids, and he was determined not to blow his chance.
He made Christopher the first and foremost thing in his life, and would stop at nothing to do what was best for his son. He was involved in Christopher’s school life, working with him on his homework, especially his math. He watched over his boy’s social life, carefully vetting his play companions.
And he was a whole-hearted companion in Christopher’s latest love, football. Dad had found something really special that he could share, and would literally pin you against a wall to share the latest football photos and stories from Christopher’s games.
No matter what else was going on in his life, Chris’ love for Christopher was the strongest emotion he ever displayed.
Chris’ life also taught us that there is a big difference between adulthood and manhood. One you attain by merely living long enough. The other has to be modeled and taught.
Many times we have all seen Chris do exactly that…mentor how a man should act, talk, and relate to others. Because he was taught, Christopher knows what Sunday clothes are for; knows how to shake your hand; understands that we should say “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am”; and that you always tell the truth even when it hurts.
These are things that no child learns on his own…they can only be taught by a loving adult.
Chris’ life taught us to respect our parents. Every year the members of this church looked forward to Mrs. Moquin coming to visit from Vermont, and attending our Christmas Eve candlelight service. Chris looked forward to her visits, and made a big effort to ensure her comfort and enjoyment. He also missed his father terribly, and often told me tales of growing up back home.
Yes, Mrs. Moquin, sometimes you would get on each other’s nerves a little bit, but neither of you ever let minor irritations affect the deep love between a parent and a child.
I learned from Chris to confront life’s problems by seeking solutions instead of assigning blame. Sure, Chris didn’t always have things go easily for him. And he would often speak candidly with me about why that may have been so.
Indeed, one of the things that I guess I will never know for sure is how much of Chris’ difficulties were partially self-inflicted, and how many were the result of just plain bad luck.
But you know, Chris recognized that the source of his problems really didn’t matter. What mattered was how he dealt with them. So, he simply tried to find the best solution without a bunch of whining, blaming, or being bitter towards life in general or the people who populate it.
And lastly, Chris’ life showed us how to keep the faith. Chris spoke fondly of his church experiences and service back home, and very soon after moving to North Carolina he sought out this church. For he knew that there is a special strength and support to be had from like-minded, fellow humans.
I hope the folks here at College Park helped to fulfill his need for friendship, and that the Church’s message helped him to keep his faith in God. I know that his friendship certainly enriched my spiritual life in this church.
So, when we try and decipher why Chris Moquin crossed our paths in life, maybe it was to remind us of these simple but timeless lessons:
• Judge each other based on inner character rather than outward appearance
• Love your children, using every means possible to teach and guide them throughout life
• Honor your parents, loving them unconditionally
• Seek positive solutions to your difficulties
• And keep your faith in others, in yourself, and in God.
I hope we can take these lessons to heart as we leave this service today. Because if we do, then we can say with certainty that it doesn’t matter that Chris’ death was meaningless and taught us nothing, because his life had already taught us everything worth knowing.