When tragedy strikes in quick succession such as the Charleston Church shootings in America, the recent collapse of a Californian apartment balcony killing six young people, and as I heard this morning (June 19 2015), the story of a young woman killed by a falling rock in Wales, one’s first impulse is often to wonder why? These people didn’t in any way deserve to die like this, so how can this happen? We find ourselves perhaps thinking simplistically, aren’t bad things only supposed to happen to bad people? For goodness sake, the people in the church were at a bible class! The kids on the balcony were enjoying a birthday party. And the girl on beach was just hanging out with a friend. All simply living their lives, not tempting fate or deliberately courting danger.
But then ten years ago, on 7 July 2005, one of my closest friends was caught up in the terrorist tube bombings in London. She subsequently lost both her legs. It was at that point I renounced any faith I might have had. She was dedicated to good, a warm, fun-loving, vibrant person. She didn’t deserve these horrific injuries. I struggled with why this had happened to her for many months. But, as I learnt more about the sequence of events on that dreadful day, my perspective slowly changed. By all rights she should have been dead. She was standing incredibly close to the bomber, she was the last person to be found and taken off the tube, she stemmed her own blood loss by using her scarf as a makeshift tourniquet around her damaged legs in a considered act of self-preservation that seems even more incredible as I write this today. Having finally been brought up onto the Kings Cross concourse, doctors repeatedly ignored urgent warnings to evacuate, staying to recussitate her when her heart stopped. And so the miracles went on (you can read the whole inspiring story of her survival in her own words here.
What I finally understood, or perhaps I should say, what I finally realised I could take from this wanton act of destruction with its devastating consequences, was that although we as individuals can attempt to eat well, exercise, look both ways when we cross the road, teach our children never to talk to strangers and generally try to be positively contributing members of society, overlaying our universe is chaos. And therein lies the rub.
Chaos spans from the oft fictionalised possibility of a meteorite crashing to earth and destroying your house to the lightening storm that really did kill an entire football team, or the elderly driver in London’s leafy Hampstead who mistook his brake for the accelerator and mowed down a mother in front of her husband and young son. We can not predict if and when any of these random acts might happen, let alone control them, such is the nature of chaos. So how can we possibly protect ourselves against such things?
And that’s the point, you can’t. But what you can do is be in a state of acceptance of chaos. By which I mean, the absolute comprehension of the phrase ‘to live in the moment’. But more than this, I suddenly understood this oft quoted homily to mean something way more significant: to conciously choose your every action. In other words, in order to be able to live happily in the moment, I resolved never again to agree to do anything that I did not want to do (clearly I mean big things here, not dodging loading the dishwasher), never again would I stay in a situation that no longer served me (again I mean on a soul level, not just getting bored!), and never again would I tolerate unfairness or injustice without speaking up. That way, I concluded, if the proverbial bomb were to drop on my head, at least in that moment, I’d be actively engaged in being where I wanted to be, or doing something that I had wanted to do, with no regrets.
As such, I sincerely hope that those people in Charleston were deeply absorbed in their prayers when the gunman opened fire. I hope the people partying on the balcony were having a really fantastic time. And I trust the girl on the beach was relaxed and happy before she died. From this perspective, perhaps too it can give some small measure of solace to those left behind; that we can believe they were each in a place of joy when the proverbial bomb dropped, not pain, fear, or sadness. I say this too because on that fateful day for my friend, she was rushing to a job she no longer enjoyed, squeezing onto a packed tube to get somewhere she didn’t want to be. And for me, I think that hurts the most.