What would account for the fact that–Too Often–we humans tend to ignore dangers that lurk in the background waiting to take a life? What is it that causes us to do Too Little to prevent injury or death? Why does it take a death to wake us up and stir us up to try and do better–all Too Late for Someone?
Years ago, I worked with someone who became my friend. After a time, she had a baby who quickly became her new primary focus. I’ll call the baby Joy because she was her mama’s joy.
“Joy” at 18 months, 1983 (?)
We more-or-less kept in touch with Christmas cards, until one Christmas–16 years later–our former boss included a news article with her card to me: Joy had been killed when the car she was riding in was hit by a train.
Of course, my friend was devastated and despite my attempts to reach out to her, I have never heard from her again. I assumed that it was just too hard for her–knowing that I was the happy mother of nine living children.
Fast forward to 2013, when I, too, experienced the awful devastation of losing a child [make that two] to an unexpected, horrific, potentially-preventable, premature death due to a car crash [this time hit by a truck]. Now I understood what my friend had faced.
Just recently, I tried to reach out to her again–to no avail–after I ran across the news article and the picture of baby “Joy” when going through boxes at our home. I re-read the details of the crash and discovered that there had been no flashers or guard at the fateful railroad crossing–less than a mile from her high school.
As a bereaved-mom-become-safety-advocate, I wanted to know if something had been done to improve safety at the site of that crash 34 years ago. I was encouraged to find out, from the township responsible for that section of roads, that they had bypassed the option of flashers and guards and immediately closed off that particular dirt road where it crossed the tracks.
A good move. Chances are it saved someone. But it was Too Late for Joy.
Why does it Too Often take a death to wake us up to the dangers that were there all along? I will share more thoughts on that later. But it seems to me that the basic problem is that we all–all Too Often–don’t face up to the reality of death, including our own, those close to us or those around us–at least not in a way that would cause us to change anything substantially to be more vigilant, to look through the lens of alertness for danger.
Death, we whisper in our unconscious mind, won’t touch us and, on top of that, what we do won’t affect anyone else. At the same time–almost in the same breath–we do acknowledge the inevitability of death to the extent that we all Too Often develop a callous attitude. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.
So then, talk of “safety” can easily become lip service and OTHER THINGS take precedence in our time, money, and focus. And if anything is done in the name of safety, it is Too Often Too Little to be much good–and the cost is certainly not justifiable when it will only impact a small percentage of people anyway.
Does this have to be so? Is this the way we really want it to be: A world filled with grieving people, hearts broken more than they should be by the frustration of knowing that–just maybe–it could have been prevented?
(This is not about making people feel guilty or bitterness & unforgiveness but circumspectly planning ahead and taking responsible action.)
This, of course, is complicated by the many factors and people involved. As a result, it becomes all too easy to look the other way, to point the finger of blame at someone else, or to have on blinders which prevent each one from seeing their part in the process which needs to involve us all.
Consider this a Wake Up Call. I hope that this startles you into self-examination and leads to fruitful action. I hope so because I know the unending pain of loss and the nagging sense that my two daughters, AnnaLeah (forever 17) and Mary (forever 13), really had a whole lot of living left undone.
My faith in the God who loves me, and my knowledge that AnnaLeah and Mary had the gift of faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord, keeps me enfolded in the comfort of His peace and the anticipation of our one-day-joyful Reunion. But it does not convince me to embrace a laissez-faire attitude about safety.
The day before their funeral, I was reading Psalm 91 and questioning, with my newly-broken heart, how God could say His angels would guard them from evil. In my mind, this had not occurred. Well, did it? (Note: I know that He cares for them by bringing them into His eternal presence.)
I accept that He is a sovereign God. But I also know that He allows sin in this world and sin leads to death and destruction. I don’t think that He caused the crash, but I know that He did not stop it or any of its horrific details.
I also believe that He says that He will make it work together for good. So I watch as that enfolds now and in the life to come. Yet, I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like had “sin” and carelessness and thoughtless decisions and who-knows-what-else had not intervened–saving God the trouble of His redeeming handiwork after their untimely deaths.
Sometime after the crash, we began attending a new church–one which has a frequent practice of reciting Martin Luther’s Morning Prayer in Sunday morning services:
“I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen”
https://historictrinity.org/commonprayers.html Hear the prayer as a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AZ6g94hmnc or https://vimeo.com/9651771 or https://soundcloud.com/kevinbueltmann/morning-prayer-song
I have a hard time saying those words because they remind me that He did not keep AnnaLeah and Mary from all harm and danger and that it seems to me that the evil foe did have power over them. I usually say to myself, “What was Luther thinking when he wrote those words?!”
So, the other day when I ran across a book in our collection, Luther & His Katie–a biography of Martin Luther and his wife, Katie–I read with a great deal of interest the description of Luther’s reaction to the death of his loved ones.
After losing his 8 month-old second child to illness,
“Luther wrote, ‘My little daughter Elizabeth has been taken away from me, leaving me strangely sick at heart, almost like a woman so deeply am I grieved. I would never have believed that a father’s heart could be so tender towards his children.’
“Katie [his wife] was inconsolable and it took her a long time to get over the loss.” (p. 52) Later the author records Luther’s reaction to the death from illness of his 13 year-old daughter, Magdalena: “‘Oh God,’ Luther prayed, ‘I love her dearly but Thy will be done.’ And turning to her, ‘Magdalena, my little girl, you would like to stay with your father here and you would as gladly go to your Father in heaven?’ “‘Yes, dearest father, as God wills.’
“And Luther grieved that though God had blessed him as no bishop had been blessed in a 1000 years, yet he could not find it in his heart to give God thanks. . . .
“As the end drew near Luther fell on his knees at her bedside praying with tears that God would receive his dear one while Katie stood at the far side of the room unable to watch her child as she died in her father’s arms. Then he turned to console the weeping mother.
“‘Dearest Katie, let us think of the home our daughter has gone to, there she is happy and at peace.’ “When she was laid in her coffin he said, ‘My darling Lenchen, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. How strange to know that she is at peace and all is well and yet to be sorrowful!’, and to his friends who came to weep with them,
“‘Let us not be sad. I have sent a saint to heaven. If mine could be like hers, I would gladly welcome death at this very hour.’ “She was buried beside her sister Elizabeth in the churchyard and Luther wrote an epitaph,
Here I, Magdalena, Doctor Luther’s little maid
Resting with the saints, Sleep in my narrow bed
I was a child of death, For I was born in sin
But now I live, redeemed Lord Christ, By the blood You shed for me.
“She died shortly after 9 o’clock on the 10th of September and three days later the heartbroken father wrote to Justus Jonas. . . “‘I expect you have heard that my beloved Magdalena has been born again into Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Although my wife and I ought to rejoice because of her happy end, yet such is the strength of natural affection that we cannot think of it without sobs and groans which tear the heart apart.
“‘The memory of her face, her words, her expression, in life and in death–everything about our most obedient and loving daughter lingers in our hearts so that even the death of Christ (and what are all deaths compared to His?) is almost powerless to lift our minds above our loss. “‘So would you give thanks to God in our stead? For hasn’t He honored us greatly in glorifying our child? You know how gentle and sweet she was, how altogether lovely.
“‘Christ be praised who chose her and called her and has now glorified her. I pray God that I and all of us may have such a death, yes and such a life.’
“Luther himself never got over Magdalena’s death. His health deteriorated and he began to regard himself, prematurely perhaps, as an ‘old exhausted man.'” (pp. 66-69)
Somehow, reading about Luther’s reaction to the loss of two daughters made me feel better about my own.
How interesting that, as I contemplated the prevailing attitude of avoidance of death and dying–especially as it relates to safety initiatives, I received the latest issue of a quarterly newsletter which we have been getting for years. The topic: “Biblical Truths About Death and Dying (Part I, Prepare to Meet Your God. Are You Ready?)” by Rodney Lensch.
There is much which I could quote from his essay on the topic, but let me narrow it down to a few thoughts. We are all going to die–one way or another. There is a time to be born and a time to die. Ecclesiastes 2:7
Rod describes the deaths of some of the people he has known and refers to them as,
“. . . a reminder that death comes to believers in [varied and sometimes] surprising ways. Therefore we must be ready at all times, day or night. At the same time we need to claim the promises of long life and responsibly serve God and our neighbor with an eye on heaven as Paul instructs us. We are of good courage, and would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him. (2 Corinthians 8:9)”
He also cites sin as the root cause of death as, “Jesus is the only antidote for the problem of sin and death. That being true, let us repent and accept Jesus today and be ready whenever death may knock at our door.”
I will be eternally grateful that Mary and AnnaLeah were ready when death knocked at their door on a day when they did not suspect it. I am comforted by a letter we found after their funeral which Mary had written to herself (meant to be read ten years later) a few weeks before our crash. One of the things she said–and which I will never forget–was that she hoped that she was living every day as if it were her last.
The Bible says that, Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.(Ecclesiastes 7:2) Why is it that Too Often we do not do so? Why do we live and think and act as if we were invincible and invulnerable?
According to Rod Lensch, “One good explanation is that death is like the law of gravity. We recognize its reality but rarely think about it. People generally tend to walk into life with hope and confidence but back into death with uncertainty and fear. So the conspiracy of silence surrounding death continues unabated.”
And, it is this “conspiracy of silence” surrounding death as it relates to crash fatalities that I would like to shatter. I would like to shine a spotlight on these countless unnecessary and preventable deaths and call for change–for safety to become much more than a word that is flippantly tossed around without any real and lasting impact.
Let’s be bold and decisive and circumspectly do the sensible and compassionate thing. Let’s do our part–each one of us–to protect those around us from all harm and danger that they might love and laugh and live their life fully.
This morning, as I was taking a shower, I began singing Amy Grant’s song, “Thy Word Is A Lamp Unto My Feet.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs-aiQ9NZ1g
Normally, that song is an encouragement to me. But as I got to the phrase, “Please be near me to the end,” I “lost it” as the memory returned of my girls’ abrupt and premature end to their lives. At one and the same time, it was a comfort that He was indeed near them “to the end” and a great sorrow that their ending had to come in such a way and at such a time–so unnecessarily for me to see and bear in my own lifetime, and for them to miss out on so much more of life, not to mention all the lives now bereft of the love and gifts they so freely shared.
It is at such moments that I cry out, “May there be an end to Too Often, Too Little, Too Late. And may it come quickly.”
Mary’s Baptism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9UvtWMh3J8
AnnaLeah’s Confirmation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nY393AmtB8E
Mary’s Confirmation Questioning (She was to be confirmed in June 2013.): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue4KZR1pFa0
AnnaLeah & Mary Are Where They Belong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8emDfPJyqM
Farewell to Mary and AnnaLeah: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpKdHfc_xFY
We Rescue, Jesus Saves: http://annaleahmary.com/2014/08/we-rescue-jesus-saves/