“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears…Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.” Henri J.M. Nouwen
Sometimes I begin my run by walking down the steep hill beside my house to get to the bike path in the meadow beyond the small woods that border our backyard. When I did this earlier in the week I noticed our sugar maple, which is finally showing off its full fall magnificence.
As incredible as it seems to me, we still, one week into November, have not had a frost in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where I live, although lower nighttime temperatures are forecast for this weekend. The maple must have figured that it was now or never, and finally put on its show.
My backyard vinca has given up the ghost. but my marigolds are hanging in there, although they do look slightly bedraggled.
All of these November scenes remind me that Thanksgiving is coming, and I have been reading and thinking a lot about gratitude lately. One perennial goal of mine is to cultivate a grateful attitude. I have so much to be thankful for.
This year, it is difficult, despite my many blessings, to achieve the soaring, exultant feeling I associate with gratitude. Our small community, you see, experienced a recent tragedy.
One Friday afternoon, a few weeks ago, a motorist in her 60s was noticed driving erratically several miles away from our town. Several drivers called 911 to report it and a police cruiser was dispatched.
The police officer, coming up behind the suspicious driver, turned on his lights and siren in an attempt to pull her over. At this point, the woman, rather than pulling over, sped off in an attempt to evade the policeman. The officer was ordered to abandon the pursuit. His supervisor did not want a high-speed chase heading for the area, now only two miles away, where three schools were dismissing within three blocks of each other.
Unfortunately, the driver did not slow down; in fact, she sped up even more. She entered the school zone, with a speed limit of 15 mph, traveling approximately 70 mph.
Now, I have been on this stretch of road thousands of times. At 3:15, when the high school I retired from a year ago dismisses, there is always a long lineup of cars waiting for the traffic light two blocks away. Parents are picking up kids, students are walking home on the sidewalks, school buses are leaving the parking lot, and cars full of teenagers, usually laughing and talking, with music blasting, are waiting in traffic, happy to have the whole weekend free from the discipline and schedule of school.
There was one such car containing three students, two boys and a girl, at the end of the line of traffic that day. They were heading out to celebrate the girl’s 17th birthday that Friday afternoon.
The speeding driver plowed into the car full of students, became airborne, flipped, and hit another six cars before coming to rest upside down.
Two precious young members of our community died as a result of the crash – the birthday girl and one of the boys in the same car. Other people were hospitalized. The driver remains unconscious and unresponsive more than two weeks after the accident. We may never know what prompted the erratic driving and desperate flight that resulted in such tragedy.
As a teacher and a parent, compassion leads me to think of the families of the students who died. I cannot imagine the anguish loved ones must feel now, at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every missed birthday, forever.
We admonish our teenagers “Don’t drink and drive!” “Obey the speed limit.” and ” Put your cell phone away while you are driving!” We say these things because we believe it gives us some control over a dicey situation.
16 and 17-year-olds have not had much experience driving. They think that nothing bad could happen to them. I had one 16-year-old boy, who was bragging to his classmates about risky driving, tell me “Come on, Mrs. Hess. You know 16-year-old guys all think we’re invincible!” when I begged him to slow down. Sadly, I informed him, my experience has shown me otherwise.
But these students were sitting in a stopped car. They weren’t drinking, speeding or distracted. What can we tell our young people about death that comes hurtling out of nowhere at 70 mph?
I believe that God is with the bereaved families, just like He was with the two students who died and the lone survivor in the car. The pastor of the Lutheran church where the accident took place and where the makeshift memorial to the students now stands was quoted in the local newspaper. He said, “Grief is real, but so is love.”
Yes. Grief is real. As a community, we wept for these young people. Our grief will stay with us, become part of us. We can either allow this grief to make us bitter, or we can, eventually, allow it to deepen our compassion and our love.
Maybe what I must feel thankful for this Thanksgiving season is this: God’s presence allows us to bear unbearable things. He will mend hearts broken in two by tragedy, even though it now seems impossible. He gives us everything we need, even though we cannot understand why terrible events occur with such seeming regularity.
We find God in the loving acts of members of our community – the first responders and doctors who assisted those at the scene of the accident and later, at the hospital; the other schools in the area who encouraged students and staff to wear the colors of our high school to show their solidarity, love and support, counselors who showed up at the school on Saturday, Sunday, and all throughout the week to comfort those having a hard time dealing with the devastating news. Compassion and love stream from the light of God’s holy flame. Let it burn within each one of us. It is enough, abundantly so, and we must give thanks.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4.
I am linking up with Clean Eats Fast Feets for her Week in Review, Shank You Very Much for Global Blogging, Random-osity for The Good, The Random, The Fun, blovedboston for Weekending, Purposeful Faith for RaRa link up, Abounding Grace for Gracefull Tuesday, Char at Trekking Thru, Meghan Weyerbacher for Tea and Word, Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday, Shelbee on the Edge for Spread the Kindness, Mary Geisen Tell His Story, Bethere2day for Wordless Wednesday on a Tuesday, and Mary-andering Creatively for LMM.