Maple leaves the size of dessert plates floated lazily down the Little Miami River near Milford, Ohio. I stood in several inches of water watching them drift by. From the nearby shooting range I heard the sounds of target practice. It reminded me of recent shootings …, and sadly, aren’t there always recent shootings? I remembered reading an outraged Facebook post demanding to know why we had “forgotten” a particular shooting in the wake of other tragedies. I reflected wondering if such things might be like the leaves on the river. Some seem far away; others actually brush our skin as they go by. Several look as though they are sure to hit us, but they catch a current and float on by. Others sneak up from under water and wrap around our ankles. Tragedies strike far and near. They can entangle us or float on by with little fanfare. We can be sure we will experience them in one way or another if we hang out in this world for very long.
It seems to me we are not designed to live in a tragedy forever. As I think of the tough times in my life, I am not physically capable of experiencing the height of their intensity day after day, year after year; and I certainly do not want them to forever define me. Who wants to be known as “the relative of the one who_____” or “that person with ______ disease” or “the poor woman whose ____died.” These tragedies most assuredly shape us. They change us forever in big ways and small ways. But they do not own us. After a while, the intensity fades and they slip from the center of our lives. Like the leaves, at some point they need to float on down the river. Not forgotten, but also not bound around our legs in a globby mass.
As I stood in the river, leaves clinging to one of my legs, I realized that there were several ways to remove the leaves. I could reach down and pick them off, or I could shake my leg a few times … if I could balance on the other foot in the current. I found that by far the easiest way to remove leaves was to turn one way or the other and let the flow of water wash them away. Sometimes just a slight turn did the trick. Other times bigger turns were needed and maybe even a helping hand. In the same way, tragedies take varying amounts of turning, in the form of work and/or time, before we can move on. Still, I think we must move on. If we were still living all the tragedies of all the centuries of human existence, we could not stand. Mercifully, we cannot even know all the tragedies of human existence. Hopefully we learn from the tragedies we do know about, but are not perpetually stuck in them.
We can all expect a few tragedies in our lives, either up close or from a distance, and probably some of each. Still, I hope that we do not waste a lot of time anticipating every tragedy that could possibly occur, or clinging to those that do arrive as if afraid to let go. May we find good ways to work with the tragedies that come our way, learning their lessons, and experiencing resulting healing. This may take time, friends, music, words, professional healers, and any number of other avenues. Then, may we allow, and even encourage those tragedies, to float on down the river when their time comes. For some reason, it seems that letting go can be almost as difficult as the tragedy itself.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35,37)