I don’t pretend to know why bad things happen to good people. My brain understands that there are cause-and-effect relationships behind everything, but when something terrible happens I don’t care about logic or scientific explanations—I just want someone to fix it.
But we all know it doesn’t work that way. How and why it does work is a conversation much bigger than my simple blog could handle. And although we have to accept the fact that much of what happens in life is beyond our control, we still control a lot. Because as I tell my kids (and constantly remind myself), you can make every situation you’re in better or worse.
Today I’m taking the liberty of sharing a gift that was given to our family shortly after Tim’s mountain biking accident on Labor Day weekend 2010. I say “taking the liberty” because I don’t like to embarrass my friends by talking about how wonderful they are. And I don’t want to encroach on someone else’s grief. But this gift is a reminder that you can take the pain from your own life and make it into something meaningful for others.
The reason I’m thinking about this amazing gift right now is because one of the friends who put it together reminded me that today marks the 3-year anniversary of the death of her young niece from cancer. When Tim had his accident, it was just over a year since this beautiful young woman, barely out of childhood, had passed away. I won’t go into the agony of the situation because you have either been through something like this yourself or you can imagine what it must have been like, what it’s still like, for her family.
But what my friend did was to take some of that pain and transform it into something so kind that it brought us to tears. We were in a very dark place as Tim lay in the ICU paralyzed and in pain and none of us knowing how the story would end. And then this box showed up, overflowing with love and comfort and the hard-earned knowledge of what’s needed when you find yourself trapped in a hospital room as someone you love fights a battle and all you can do is watch. I stood there and cried over the thank-you notes and the candle and the lotion and the snacks and the money for parking. I carried the small notebook they’d included into every meeting with every doctor, frantically jotting down terms like “spinal stenosis” and “central cord syndrome,” until they finally started to make horrible sense. The kids, of course, took most of the food. But I tucked the chocolate away until the day came when Tim finally felt enough like himself again to ask, “Is there any chocolate around here?”
Today Tim keeps the box tucked up on a shelf in our bedroom closet, filled to the brim with cards and notes and well wishes from all those who carried him through his recovery so lovingly that he was able to tell someone once that “other than the accident itself, this has been a wonderful experience.”
It’s such a small consolation, if you can even call it that, to know that someone else is feeling lighter because of your pain. But it’s all we have, isn’t it? The simple kindnesses, often born from our own suffering, that add grace and meaning to a world that doesn’t always make sense. We can’t control much, but we can send a card, put together a basket, or just listen.
And—does this even need to be said?—we can give an extra hug to the people we love because today is all we have.