My attention was drawn to the special section of a recent edition of our Villages Daily Sun newspaper. Its title, The Untold Stories Behind Ian’s Immense Death Toll, nudged at my curiosity, and the title of this blog, a familiar quote, surfaced in my mind, along with a mixture of feelings…deep, deep sadness, something akin to shame, and a muted sense of relief.
Tears blurred my vision and I wiped them away with the back of one hand as I gazed down at ninety-nine faces and seventy-three rectangles representing those that remained faceless for a variety of reasons, as would become clear as one read through the twelve pages it took to complete the purpose for this special section. I felt compelled to take a moment to fully engage both my mind and my heart and, finding the right balance, I slowly made my way through every page. Nearly two hours later, I knew I needed to write a blog about it and share it with you, remaining open and as authentic as possible about what the experience was like.
That is what this blog is about. Read on if you are prepared to also open your heart and allow yourself to experience whatever thoughts and feelings surface for you as you take in the rest of this blog and embrace its title.
As I contemplate it myself (which I initially thought must’ve come from a bible verse but quickly learned it traced back to a statement made by a John Bradford, back in the 1500s), a sense of gratitude fills my heart as I think about how very fortunate most of us were, here in The Villages, to have escaped the devastating power and effects of this category 4 storm. And, of course, it resurrected memories of February 2, 2007, just a few months after the move my wife and I had made into our new home here, when a catastrophic tornado tore through Central Florida and The Villages, in particular. It woke us up in the early hours of the morning, following a path that bordered our section a mere quarter of a mile away, destroying hundreds and hundreds of homes and leaving a trail of demolished homes and blue tarp roofs that disappeared over the next several months as repairs were made and homes and landscaping were restored to normal.
Again, that feeling of gratitude, quickly pushed out of mind by equally strong memories and feelings of helplessness, knowing friends of ours, and so many more people we didn’t know personally, were going through their losses, trying to hold onto hope that it would soon enough be over and their lives could return to normal. And I wondered, now, how would my wife and I have handled the situation if we “hadn’t been so lucky?”
Continuing my reading of the special newspaper section, I was temporarily drawn into the life (and death) of each of the ninety-nine faces and felt all the fear each experienced, as well as the letting go as many opened their hearts and allowed themselves to move into the flow that comes as one makes their transition into the hereafter.
Not all those transitions were so divinely guided, however. Some, so gripped by fear and hopelessness, chose to take their own lives. And having on more than one occasion waded in those murky waters myself, I had an understanding that brought yet more tears…for them…that they had not been able to keep their heads above the surface just a little longer and experience another day on this earth.
Because a number of the individuals took their own lives with a gun, I have to admit my frustration, with how various groups in our nation refuse to seriously consider and then enact legislation that would limit access to them, surfaced and a bit of judgment with it. Yeah, I know. The remanent of fear. Something else for me to contemplate at another time.
And what about those left behind? What must that be like? Different, I suppose, depending upon how soon and in what way they came to know of their loved one’s passing.
Were they there, a witness to their loss, helpless to do anything to alter the outcome, either because 911 calls could not be honored, due to the flooding, downed power lines, loss of power, or no phone connection? Or perhaps, as was the case in many instances, the spouse or other family member was incapacitated by an injury incurred during the storm or a pre-existing health condition that left them unable to do anything to bring about a different outcome. Did they have to spend hours or even days alone with the body of their loved one? Or worse yet, having to watch them struggle, slowly giving in to their now inevitable passing? How were those experiences? I can only imagine and the images that come to mind are too painful to keep in the light of curiosity. Lucky me! That wasn’t my experience! And that thought does little to dissolve the need to find another way to process the enormity of the loss of others.
So,what are the options? Well, as I look around at my own sprawling community of The Villages, I see quite a few. Here are the ones that came to mind. I’ve listed them below in case you’re now asking yourself the same question (although I think many of you already have stepped up and are doing what you’ve been called to do to make a difference).
1.Decide to join one of the many, many clubs and groups that provide a structure and an organized approach to making and/or collecting or buying items and products to fill the needs of those that are homeless, who are living in circumstances that prevent them from meeting their own needs, or who are living alone in facilities built to provide proper care for those that can no longer care for themselves. Many of these individuals, being senior citizens, have been moved into these facilities by well-intentioned children or other family members and then left in the care of over-worked and underpaid staff. Over a few years the quality of services offered declines, and it is the residents who suffer. Thank God for those who step up and make an effort to volunteer, to help fill some of the needs for personal contact, of some recognition and kindness.
2.Many of these facilities (both dependent and independent ones) welcome volunteers who are willing to offer their musical and entertainment talents to lift the spirits of the residents and bring them a little joy. Or have programs that offer volunteers the opportunity to visit residents and simply talk with them or read to them.
3.There are facilities that serve as hospices, offering special care for those who are very near the end of their life. For those of us who have special training and experience as prayer chaplains or as caregivers, this can be another avenue for giving service.
4.For those who have home building and repair experience, there are groups like Habitat for Humanity that always need more volunteers to help build new homes for individuals and families in need of a helping hand or to assist in making needed home repairs for those that have homes but cannot afford to pay for someone to do them.
5.And finally, it has occurred to me that, like others who share their spiritual understanding—their life journey—through books, and through poems and articles which appear in local newspapers and magazines and lift one’s spirit, what I am doing through these blogs, my books, and through my website is what I am called to do and that is enough, although I remain open to the possibility of any one of the above options in the future.
So, have I come to any conclusions or any “take-aways” from all of this? I think so. If I truly believe the path we are each on is the right one for each of us (and I do), no matter what that may look like, no matter where it leads us, we are each doing the very best we can, and I can only hold others in the Light of prayer and Love, and know God is there, around and within them, showing the way.
And while I may not yet have a complete understanding of God’s grand plan for us, I can do my best to keep an open mind and heart and keep on listening and watching for the signs that keep me on my own spiritual journey through another day, grateful for God’s grace.
May each of you find some kernel of Truth and wisdom as a result of having read this blog. Or at least a thought to give further consideration.
Love and Light, Steven