Today's news about a deadly natural event in Oklahoma is making the news internationally. What will not make the news today (or any other day) is something which will directly affect two families in particular, and in its own way is every bit as tragic as the big news story. What has happened to a young couple known to us is so very, very sad, but - I am almost afraid to say - by no means unique.
For many months now they have been looking forward with excitement and joy to the birth of their first child. That joy and excitement has turned to unimaginable sadness and grief as, at full term, their as yet unseen child died before he or she could be born. I cannot - and I feel unworthy to even try - imagine their sense of loss. As someone at the furthest periphery of their social circle (I've met them both just once) and as someone who is merely a name and a face to them, the sadness of their plight is palpable. Closer in...well...I doubt that there are words which come close to describing the feelings.
Life is frequently horrible. It's a shock when it strikes close to home, but when it does: there it is, in HD and with surround sound. I've delivered enough death messages to unknowing widows and widowers, suddenly parent-less children and appallingly child-less parents, to have realised that this is a truth. Those curve balls can hit you right between the eyes. I've witnessed and dealt with enough tragedy to know that the surprises that life may hold for us can be beyond our ability or willingness to anticipate. Tragedy and sadness are possible everywhere and in everyone's lives - there are no real safeguards against the fact that shit really does happen. Sometimes the shit that happens is worse than we are able to, or wish to imagine. And the fact that we don't imagine it all is probably a good thing.
For a few brief moments more than sixteen years ago I thought that I had lost my son during his birth. For only two or three minutes I fell into a spiral of grief and despair I have not known since, and never wish to know again. That was enough for me. But I know that I was lucky; my son survived his crisis while countless others have not, and will not. I faced it for a very short time, and I was forced to begin to understand it; life can be ugly - really ugly.
The lesson I have tried to learn from this - and I'm still not very good at it - is that capturing and enjoying the pleasant, the good, the fun and the joyous is much more important that dwelling on the sad. I have to tell myself to do this sometimes when I forget about it and become maudlin and self-pitying. Today's tragic news has been a kick in the pants; I am after all a very fortunate man, far more fortunate than I tend to appreciate. Yes, I have a beautiful, loving partner who shares my life in a way I could not have imagined was possible, I have wonderful children whose lives are beginning to develop before my eyes, and I have countless other fortunes about which I can feel justifiably happy. I would do well to remember this more frequently during my day.
I do not have to hold close to me the overwhelming sadness of a loss which seems so cruel and unfair, as does the young couple whose lives have been so savagely turned upside down. I will acknowledge their loss, their pain, their intense sadness, but I must nevertheless continue to acknowledge the good things in my life. Their pain, their loss is not mine, and neither must it become so. I hope with all my strength that they are able to weather this emotional maelstrom and come through it to find calm waters; stronger, wiser and - dare I say it - able to understand something of this lesson that life has taught me.