Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Loving Jack . . .

A week ago something tragic happened.  I know tragic things happen everyday, maybe every second, somewhere in the world.  We all know that; we just don't usually have that fact on the forefront of our minds.  And then something tragic happens to someone you know.  Or to you.  Then it's different . . . you know what I mean.

A week ago the house of my friends burned to the ground.  No one knows how it happened or why it happened.  The very different thing is that I watched it.  I watched it along with many others, including the three friends who lived in the house.  The friends who were losing all of the material things they owned.  And other friends who owned the house and whose grandmother had lived for years in the house.  We watched.  We all watched as the firefighters worked and worked and worked and worked.  We watched as materials that had withstood the test of time failed the test of fire.  We watched and watched and wondered what in the world to do. 

That's what I wanted to tell you about.  That's the part I want you to know.  What people did is part of what I'll remember.  Watching your house burn down is not graceful, but what people did in that moment was grace-filled, to be sure.  

I can see all of the people now.  I can see them in my mind's eye.  I can see my three friends, a daughter home from college and Jack, their dog on a leash.  I can see them - their eyes wet with tears and thankfulness for their lives and lit up from the flames that wouldn't burn out.  I can see them now.

News travels fast, and word of the fire moved swiftly through many folks in our church.  You might imagine that most people would be safely tucked in their warm homes on the night before Thanksgiving.  They were.  But you should have seen the folks who left those warm homes on the night before Thanksgiving to come out and stand with their friends as they watched the fire destroy all that was inside.  There was nothing to do.  So we watched.  

And more folks came and they stood beside the folks watching what they knew go up in flames.  Some folks said things.  Some folks cried.  Some friends hugged.  Some folks said nothing at all, but stood in support, as if by standing alongside they were serving to hold up those whose home was being demolished by a force too strong for humans to outsmart.  Some folks called others from the scene.  Some folks went to the store to purchase toothbrushes for the moment that would surely come and it was time for them to go to sleep, somewhere, sometime.   Some friends left to go the ATM to get money that they would come back to put into the hands of the ones who had nothing.  People made plans about how to get what they would need.  People planned where they could live.  People planned what they would eat.  Friends loved in all of the ways we knew to love when there isn't anything we know to say.   

The fire raged on, as if to show us all that it was powered by something stronger than we understood.  We stood, we watched, we planned, we hugged, we wondered what in the world we were supposed to do.  We wondered what to say.  We wondered how to look while we stood shoulder to shoulder with loved ones as they watched the unreal happen.  We wished we could think of something to say, to do, something to help.  We wondered what we would want, what we would need.  The fire just kept burning, kept raging - sometimes growing calmer and then surprising us all with force as it roared to life again.  And then we stood some more, wondered some more.  Didn't know what to do some more.

There were people everywhere.  Sometimes the scene was so surreal that you had to remind yourself that it was actually happening.  I'm sure that Greg and Jan and Michelle and Elin felt that way.  I'm sure they had to continue to internally remind themselves that this wasn't a bad dream, that this was really happening.  And there was Jack, the sweet Jack Russell dog, on a leash, confused and wondering.  I remember that I often saw Greg bend down from standing, grab hold of Jack's sweet head and hold it - loving him, giving the confused dog some sense of certainty even though he had none himself.  I'll always remember that.

Hours went by.  The fire raged on.  It was almost surprising that something burning that hot, that fiercely, could burn for that long.  We kept standing.  We kept wondering.  What do we do?  What do we say?

And then I saw something I'll never forget.  I saw three people I didn't know just sitting right in the middle of the commotion.  As throngs of wonderers and watchers and wishers and prayers stood and walked and hugged and wondered, these three people - a married couple and their son - sat down on the ground.  I couldn't help but wonder what they were doing.  Why were they just sitting there?  They seemed so intent on being in a circle, on roping off the reality from their little party.  I couldn't understand.

I walked closer to them and saw them there in a circle, as if the terrifying scene lighting up our eyes and our faces wasn't really happening.  I got closer and closer.  I wondered who they were.  Why were they there?  Why weren't they trying to figure out what to do?  Why weren't they standing alongside those who were watching what they thought was sturdy fall to the flames?

And then I saw Jack.  There was Jack, the sweet dog, right in the middle of the circle.  That's what they were doing.  They weren't doing nothing.  They had found something they could do, and they were doing it.  If I had taken their photo and could crop the horrors of the background away, you would think they could be nestled together in a warm cabin somewhere, enjoying their family pet.

They were active.  They weren't just wondering.  They were doing.  Acting.  Walking the walk.  They whispered to Jack and petted him softly.  They took turns calmly holding him, caressing him and using all that they had to give him peace.  They didn't know what to do either, didn't know how to help or what to say, so they found something they knew they could do and did it.

I won't forget them.  I won't forget what it looked like to see them in the midst of the terrifying night.  There was horror that night.  There was disbelief, shock and sadness.

But there was grace, too.  There were friends and strangers giving all they knew to give, saying what they could or just standing in support.  And there were three people who did something totally different - a little band of angels that quietly walked up, found a job and made a difference.  I won't forget them.


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