Updated: Jan 20, 2021
The question isn’t “How could this have happened?” but rather “How should we respond?” Life is filled with tragedies great and small, and though we can (and should) never get used to it, we shouldn’t finally be surprised, either, when it’s our turn to face the grim realities, the unexpected turn. Life is fragile, tenuous, fleeting. When tragedy hits, it will take our breath away, but it shouldn’t take our reason for living away. It can’t, lest death win twice. I think of the mother who lost her two sons in the rising flood waters of Sandy. As a parent myself, I can only grieve from a distance, only imagine the horror — the absolute abject horror — of trying to come to grips with that tragedy. But for the sake of her boys, if for no one else, she must live on, must see to it that, after a long and painful darkness, she forces herself to confront the light of another day.
God bless that woman and her husband, and may the sweet souls of her two boys be resting now in peace. The question most certainly cannot be “How could this have happened?” It must be, for the sake of Life, “How must I respond?” Life is fragile. We’re all just hanging on by a thread.
There are also times in life when things happen that you didn’t expect — a word gone awry, or a gesture misunderstood takes a turn you didn’t intend. At times like this, we shouldn’t to be too terribly surprised, either. Especially those moments between two people when all the tenuous strings that connect two souls are plucked at intervals that become dissonant. There’s no playbook for this sort of thing, no manual or guide. You fall back on the vagaries of wisdom and hope that for all your imperfections, you play mostly harmonies and melodies with those thrown into your path. And forgiven when you don’t.
In both big and small ways, with life’s unmitigated tragedies and unfortunate misunderstandings, we’re reminded again and again how fragile life is, how carefully we must tread through this maze of living. And this, I suspect, is why life is so precious, precisely because it’s so fragile.
We might be forgiven for assuming that, having made it this far, we’re indestructible, incomparably durable, masters of our destiny. But then that storm hits, or that letter comes, or that word is said, or that diagnosis is given, or that wrong turn is taken, and suddenly, things change in a flash. And when that happens, we shouldn’t be too terribly surprised. We may be the captains of our ships, but we are not the wind.
Such is life. Such is living. Welcome home.