I was in our local hospital emergency room the other night. I was comforting my 10 year old daughter awaiting a surgical repair to her broken and dislocated arm. All the rooms were full with some degree of trauma and pain. This is not exceptional, emergency room visits occur over 114 million times a year in the United States alone. We live in a world with gravity, as my ten year old experienced with her recent bad landing on an unfortunate trampoline bounce. At some time or another we all miss and fall, and the force of gravity bears on us all equally, where we hit the ground- but we’re not running.
The other gravity of life takes hold at these moments that often usher in serious injury and grave tragedy. We are never prepared for the end of anything, even if we are fully aware of the statistics and uncertainty that qualify life. How could we go about the fullness of life’s activities and challenges expecting tragedy to fall with the even handedness that the universal law of gravity metes out? In order to keep it all going, we move forward with the naive expectation that the difficult and challenging experiences in life only happen to other people, not to us. Sooner or later, even the luckiest among us joins the ranks of survivors.
I had just started reading I Will Not Be Broken by Jerry White, the day before I spent the night in the emergency room. I have suffered illnesses and diseases with my children before, some that seemed like they would define life forever. I remembered his words about how when people suffer a major loss of any kind, they all carry a date. This is the moment when tragedy, loss and surviving transforms their lives. As I sat in the ICU waiting room, hearing hushed conversations around me, I knew that some of that date setting was going on right there. I felt so grateful that all I had in front of me in the middle of the night is getting a girl through summer without the pool.
That is another phenomenon of tragedy that happens for most of us. We often end up comparing our loss to those of others we know or have heard of. Even in the most dire of circumstances, survivors find gratitude; their problem is manageable compared to people they know. Jerry White, himself was the victim of life changing loss when early in his twenties, he lost his lower leg in a minefield outside of Jerusalem. His book is an account of the years he has spent founding the Survivors Corp and shares the gravity and grief of daily life on planet earth along with remarkable stories of resiliency.
Tragedy and loss is not limited to bodily events, the emotional wreckage that can result from dysfunctional relationships is no less an issue of survivor-ship than losing a limb as I was recently reminded from one of my readers. She asked me to write of the loss and trauma of reinventing a life after being left and abandoned in her long term relationship. I hear these kinds of stories everyday, where the heart can become so bruised that we become unable to feel, unable to risk expressing love, isolated with our fears and loneliness. Finding the courage and the heart to rebuild a life that has meaning and brings joy requires the same skills of survivor-ship which begin by giving up being a victim and choosing life.
The universal law of gravity is based on the fundamental force of attraction between bodies (objects of mass) which is what gravity in life should teach us. We are all in this together and reacting to the losses that we sustain with the ability to reach out and give back is the basis on which we not only survive, but thrive. Often it is not until the world seems to be coming apart that we begin to feel both compassion and connectedness to people, both that we know and that are strangers who have experienced a loss like ours.
Early stages of recovery from tragedy happen as we lose our sense of being a victim and realize that we belong. Joining groups of people who share similar experiences is a profoundly healthy response to finding meaning in your own experience. Settling into a new and different life experience is heightened and more rewarding when we risk offering our help to others just beginning their journey.
Experiencing our brokenness is where we get a heart that is cracked wide open. A heart that has the both the strength to grieve, the courage to forgive, the tenacity to live in gravity.