"Ring the bells that still ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." ~Leonard Cohen
There comes a time in everyone's life when one must grapple with the unsettling reality of tragedy. When each of us must wrestle with the sobering thought that unforeseen, uncontrollable events can swoop into even the most unsuspecting lives and threaten to rattle one's very core.
Left alone, it is all too easy to drown in these questions and flounder under feelings of sorrow, anger, bitterness, disappointment, and hurt. But it is also during these moments of extreme vulnerability and brokenness that one experiences sudden moments of clarity.
Over Labor Day weekend, I found myself tiptoeing gingerly across what little remained of my aunt and uncle's farmhouse. While visiting their grandchildren one typical Sunday afternoon, they received a call from a neighbor reporting their home was ablaze. They rushed home to find that they had literally lost everything.
I was unprepared for the extent of the damage. Insulation hung in tufts from the ceiling. Light filtered in through cracked windows. A bizarre combination of glass, dishes and various old toys I remembered from childhood lay strewn about what used to be the living room. It was a surreal experience to be standing in such a charred skeleton of a home--the air dense with smoke and grief--yet the birds still chirping outside. At first, it was almost too much.
My family and I had driven down in old t-shirts and worn tennis shoes eager to jump in and take action. Willing to get grimy and sweaty and covered in ash with the expectation that somehow through hauling out salvageable possessions and laboring all day, we would be making a difference and perhaps even ease the pain of our relatives.
Instead, we were faced with a situation in which there was very little to be done. And we found ourselves looking at each other, helpless.
We trudged across the country road for lunch, bracing ourselves for a heavy afternoon. Coolers were unpacked and we all squeezed around a table full of casseroles, vegetable trays and plates and plates of sugary concoctions.
We sat around that table for a long time. At first in quiet small talk. Occasionally in silence as tears rolled down my aunt's face. Sometimes in outbursts of laughter over an inside family joke.
And we sat and we ate and we did very little. But somehow, when we pushed our chairs back and began clearing the table, life seemed a little brighter, a little less bleak.
And I found myself thinking that while there is certainly a place for physical labor and breaking a sweat in the name of service, sometimes all a person really needs is someone walking right beside them in their time of need.
Because at the end of the day, isn't that all that really matters?