As some of you know, my family suffered a tragedy the 7th of September, when my brother-in-law was swimming in Ocean City, Maryland, and suffered a broken neck of the C1 and C2 vertebrae, the same injury as Christopher Reeves. This has rocked our world and turned it upside down, as you can imagine. Currently, things have stabilized, but doctors hold out little hope for Brent to recover any function below his neck, including the ability to breathe on his own. My sister is maintaining courageously, but the daily round of travel, long hospital visits, grim prognosis from doctors, caring for a 14 year-old, two dogs, a home, and financial pressures certainly are a heavy weight upon her. As our family has processed this loss, and the way in which life can turn upside down in a heartbeat, I’ve been meditating on how we as humans deal with crisis. I’ve suffered the full range of emotions, a heavy sense of grief, a feeling of powerlessness, feelings of panic and intense anxiety for my sister and her husband and daughter. I’ve also experienced what they call “survivor’s guilt” and the ways in which guilt can plague those who witness this type of tragedy up close and personal. I haven’t sorted out all these feelings and I’m certain there are more to come. In the meantime, I’m trying to process what it means to walk in the “joy of the Lord” in the midst of tragedy and trauma. I confess I’m not there yet, but am hoping that I can learn through this what Nehemiah meant when he said, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).
As I was pondering this today I remembered the following Longfellow poem that my children and I had memorized many years ago. The verses about the footprints kept coming back to me:
Lives of great men all remind usWe can make our lives sublime,And, departing, leave behind usFootprints on the sands of time;Footprints, that perhaps another,Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,Seeing, shall take heart again.
A Psalm of Life
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,Life is but an empty dream!For the soul is dead that slumbers,And things are not what they seem.Life is real! Life is earnest!And the grave is not its goal;Dust thou art, to dust returnest,Was not spoken of the soul.Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,Is our destined end or way;But to act, that each to-morrowFind us farther than to-day.Art is long, and Time is fleeting,And our hearts, though stout and brave,Still, like muffled drums, are beatingFuneral marches to the grave.In the world’s broad field of battle,In the bivouac of Life,Be not like dumb, driven cattle!Be a hero in the strife!Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!Let the dead Past bury its dead!Act,— act in the living Present!Heart within, and God o’erhead!Lives of great men all remind usWe can make our lives sublime,And, departing, leave behind usFootprints on the sands of time;Footprints, that perhaps another,Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,Seeing, shall take heart again.Let us, then, be up and doing,With a heart for any fate;Still achieving, still pursuing,Learn to labor and to wait.