I live in a rather tightly-knit inner suburb of a large city. I tend to see the same people at our local grocery stores, and I have gotten to know some of the cashiers at my local Target well enough to invite them over for holiday celebrations. There is a distinct sense of community in our little city; so, when something bad happens we all feel it.
Well, something very bad happened yesterday. Two classes from one of our elementary schools went on a field trip to a park to hunt for fossils. There was a landslide. It was a freak accident. We’ve had a lot of rain lately. The ground gave way, four children dropped down a 30-foot bluff, and…one was killed while another went missing. He was buried underneath the gravel.
Families with children in the school district started getting “phone blasts” yesterday at 3:45 PM with the announcement that there had been an accident during the field trip with serious injuries. Parents started arriving at the school in a panic. I paced the floors last night wondering if I knew the two children. Did I know the families? Names had not been released, but I couldn’t let myself be at peace. These families weren’t at peace. What right did I have to enjoy a restful evening?
I imagined what the teachers, parents, and other children who attended the field trip must be feeling. What must the teachers of the two children who died be experiencing? What about the two children who survived the fall? What about the children who would go to school and see the vacant seats of their fallen classmates? Nothing would be the same again. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine how the worlds of the children’s families had changed–their pain and grief. Their utter shock. I cried in the bathroom last night.
The first thing I did this morning upon waking was check the news. Had the body of the missing child been recovered? Had this child’s family been allowed to at least get closure? Yes, his little body had been found underneath mud and gravel. I cried again.
The media surrounded this event. There were photos all over the news of little children getting off the bus, holding stuffed animals to place at a makeshift memorial in front of their school. Comfort dogs were at the school today along with grief counselors. Somehow everyone in our community has to keep going even though there are two families whose world has come out of orbit.
I felt stricken with sadness and guilt as I drank my morning coffee and observed that the weather was remarkably beautiful. Our lilacs are finally blooming, and our peonies look to be peaking up through the soil. I stopped and thought of the boys who died. I thought of the people who loved them. When would they enjoy a sunny day again without remembering May 22, 2013–the day their world stopped turning? How was it fair that I got to just shoo them from my mind and pour cream in my coffee and enjoy the song of the Purple House Finch while they were thrust into untimely loss? It’s not. This tragedy is not fair.
It has reminded me, however, that no matter how difficult my circumstances feel, no matter how trying they become, they are only temporary. Everything in my life is really evanescent except for what is not. And, what is not? The love I feel for my husband, my children, and my friends. The hope I carry in my heart that regardless of diagnoses or circumstances, there is potential in all of us to overcome and become something more than anyone ever imagined. This hope is what allows me now on the night after learning about this tragedy to believe that their lives will not be lost in vain. It allows me to believe that their families, in time, can do something with their grief and the memories they carry. I don’t know how, but I know that there is hope. I know that there is hope for some kind of redemption nor only for their families but also for everyone associated with these circumstances. It’s this very hope that gets me out of bed in the morning (yeah, it’s not just coffee after all).
In the meantime, I will not soon forget May 22, 2013 or the two beautiful boys that passed from my community all too soon.
I have perspective.
Sometimes I wish it took lesser things to give it to me.