Wednesday morning I was working at my house when I heard what I thought was something crashing into the side of the basement. We came to learn that a building had exploded from a gas leak in downtown Durham, 2.5 miles away. Life as usual and then death. The community of Durham felt it flicker, the fragility of life. The break in our morning work regimes throughout the community with the reminder that our days are precious. They are not guaranteed and the line between life and death is a thin one indeed.
In those moments we think about our loved ones, we try to connect with friends to see how they are doing, we share a moment with a friend in art class when we realize that we sit next to each other with our fear, our feeling of being on edge, our fascination and fear of death. An explosion happens fast, out of nowhere and thus seems to be the hand of death reaching into our humdrum lives and removing people.
In the case of the Durham gas explosion, the owner of the coffee shop died. Fifteen more people were seriously injured. Firefighters and emergency responders put their lives and wellbeing at risk to do a job at the line of life and death to protect community members. We felt the shock waves of the accident and were united in fear, in sorrow, in the gentleness and tenderness when you become aware of how precious life is.
I for one, forget about the line between life and death and become very comfortable living out my days as if there were many more of them. Quite honestly, I take it for granted that I have tomorrow, the next day, the next week and the next month. At 10 am on any given day many of us have dived into work while we see the work day extending in front of us. We are diligently working through todo lists, responding to emails, pushing work towards the send button. And so a blast stops us in our tracks. It wakes us up. It reminds us that our time is not endless.
For me it sounded a reminder of a lesson I learned more than a decade ago in the Peace Corps, but seem to forget again and again. In the small, West African country of Togo where I was based as a Peace Corps volunteer, I was in what could have been a fatal accident. On the freeway, in a dilapidated Toyota passenger van, accompanied by strangers. Front tire blew and the car rolled and lay blocking both direction of the road. I was in the front middle seat with no seat belt available to me. And somehow I crawled out the front windshield while the car was on its side. And miraculously I was fine. Rattled but fine. A passenger broke their arm, but otherwise we were OK.
And it occurred to me then that there are lots of good ways to die. That we remain alive is purposeful. There is an intention behind it. Because when the Spirit world wants us back, it will come get us.
So when we have moments of waking up and realizing that our being here is intentional, not an accident, what do we do with that knowledge? Well for one thing, if we truly hold onto this and feel the truth in it, we can realize that we don’t need to be afraid of death. We don’t have control over it, and it will come for us when it is good and ready. If we don’t need to fear death and our existence is purposeful, then we can freely honor what time has given us. With can live out our precious moments of life and create something beautiful with them.
When you are caught in moments of fear, of uncertainty, and doubting your worth, of feeling lost on your path this week, come back to the certainty of your existence, right now, of the importance of it, of the power in it. That you are here right now is intentional. Can you stay with it? What is possible in the moments that you hold onto that reality? From our small pockets of creativity, or struggle, of beauty and sorrow we can hold onto that thought together and see how it impacts our world around us.
Go fight win.