Thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes.
It was as if time had stopped. The truck that had just flown past me going at least 60 in a 45 mile-an-hour zone had crashed into another truck–less than two seconds after I had thought, “He’s going to cause an accident.” My mind was still processing the sounds of crashing metal and glass and the sight of smoke, sparks, and a pickup truck rolling over three lanes of traffic before nose-diving into the curb.
Prior to this moment, I had worked five summers as a lifeguard. I had been trained to respond with the utmost clarity of mind in an emergency situation. And in that moment, every other part of my mind shut off and I went into lifeguard mode. I pulled over, grabbed my cell phone, and called 911. I got out of the car. People were flooding into the street from every direction. I first checked on the driver from the truck that had flown past me. Knowing that he was still breathing and okay, I went to check on the passengers in the other truck.
My mind has forgotten the details of the image (I don’t think it wanted to remember), but the impression will always be there. The blood, the unnatural position of their necks. Then, the horrid realization that the car doors were locked, and that I had no available method to get them open. Something inside me started screaming, screaming because I had been trained on what to do in a situation like this, but a door was in my way.
When EMS arrived on the scene, I helped put the first guy on a stretcher, no words needing to be spoken between me and the EMT, who could tell within five seconds that I knew what I was doing. It was a temporary redirection of my brain activity so that I wasn’t focused on what I had just seen. But after the ambulance left and I gave my statement to the police, I broke down. I called my friend Stephen to come get me. When he arrived, he asked me if I was okay, and I burst into tears and said, “No.” I woke up several times that night, shaking and sweating. I skipped all my classes Monday. Tuesday night, a couple friends of mine informed me that the men in the second truck didn’t make it. I cried for at least an hour. I spent the night in my friend’s dorm room, because I couldn’t stand to be alone in my apartment.
Christians in America are not very good at responding to tragedy. We throw out Romans 8:28 without thinking twice, attempting to lessen the pain. We offer theories as to why God might have allowed the tragedy to happen, or simply state that God knows best and He is in control. And while many of these sentiments are true, we miss the mark. Because in the midst of of pain, what is needed is, most of the time, not assurance of a good outcome. In focusing on the end goal of the tragedy, we miss being there during the journey.
I think walking through tragedy is more about the process than finding the answers. For there is a certain connection we have with Jesus only when we walk through the dark times.
On Easter Sunday my senior year of high school, my pastor preached on how suffering helps us to relate to Jesus. He told a story about a woman who found herself humiliated from being wheeled through hallways in a hospital, naked and exposed. She found herself angry with God for allowing her to go through that experience–until she read the Passion story in the gospels.
“He knows. He understands,” she said after reading about how Jesus had been exposed and humiliated.
I don’t get it, God. I just don’t get it. It really seems like You didn’t think this one through…It doesn’t seem to have made a difference that I was there…I was six inches away from helping them and a stupid piece of metal and glass kept me from doing so. You could have done something. Why didn’t You? (From a prayer I wrote down the Wednesday after the accident)
In the days and weeks after the accident, I found myself in a very difficult place. I didn’t know how to deal with the pain I was feeling, and I didn’t know how to pray to a God that I was upset at for not intervening. I ended up letting go of my inhibitions and, for the first and only time, used curse words in my conversations with God. They were the only words I knew that truly expressed what I felt.
Some may question the wisdom of using four-letter words in prayer, for legitimate reasons. I certainly would not encourage anyone to do so in their own prayer life if it goes against their conscience. I am certain, though, that the God who listened to His own Son cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” can take some colorful language from my mouth.
And it is that same God, who in human form endured beating, torture, and hanging on a cross, who cried out to His Father “Why?” who I know can relate to my pain better than anyone else.
At least for now, it’s not about knowing the answers. It’s not even about knowing that it will eventually work out for my good. It’s about knowing the God who suffered, who overturned tables in anger, who wept, who understands my pain, and who walks through it with me.