[Spoiler Alert: this was written following Season 2, episode 13, which aired on 1/23/18]
After nearly two seasons, the writers of ‘This is Us’ revealed more details of how Jack, the father in the series, died.
We watched him clean the kitchen while his wife slept, putting food away, washing dishes, wiping counters, and then turning off the crock pot. At least he thought he turned it off, but shortly after he left the kitchen, the crock pot burst into flames.
I turned to Russ saying, “You know what I really hate about this? He has no idea what is about to happen. He has no idea that in just moments his home will be burning and his family will survive but he won’t.”
I paused, my throat tight with tears, “It’s just like us. We got up that morning thinking we were going to drive Kalkidan to Montana. We had no idea our lives were about to change forever.”
This is the cruel reality of tragedy. It catches us when we least expect it.
Tragedy is a cruel beast waiting around the corner to devour us as we go blithely skipping by.
One moment we were happily going about our lives. The next moment our car was destroyed, tipped on its side. I was trapped inside and our daughter was gone forever.
I still feel confused. How did it happen?
Of course, I know we were rounding a dangerous, poorly designed curve on the highway. I know we hit ice sending us sliding into the oncoming lane. I know there was a car coming and we were in their path. And I know we collided, sending our car spinning and rolling.
Intellectually, it’s clear – although I only remember 1-2 seconds of the 15 minutes leading up to the accident. But I still can’t make sense of it.
Could we have protected ourselves from tragedy?
If we hadn’t stopped to drop the last Christmas cards in the mailbox would we have avoided the oncoming car? Could we have looked at the 1/2 inch of snow on the ground and decided not to go – but we live in north Idaho; what’s a 1/2 inch of snow? And if we hadn’t rearranged Kalkidan’s seat because she wanted to sit on my side of the car, would she have survived?
If I didn’t love God so much, I would be furious. But I do love him and that forces me to wrestle through the hardest questions. Why did this happen? Did he think we were strong enough to survive losing our daughter? Did he think our marriage was strong enough to take such a severe blow? Did he think our hearts and minds would stay intact?
On the hard days when flashbacks come and I feel weak, I doubt if we are strong enough or if our minds and hearts will ever be healed and whole.
If we can’t protect ourselves from tragedy, what do we do?
Ten Things I’m Learning About Tragedy
1.| Life can change in a moment.
2.| Love your people. Don’t leave apologies unsaid. Hug and kiss your family and friends. Say hello when they arrive and goodbye when they leave. Call your parents. Spend the money (and time) to fly to a friend’s wedding, graduation, birthday party, or other special event.
3.| Pay attention. Look at the faces of the ones we love, not at our phones and computers. When I finish writing this, I’m turning my computer off for the day.
4.| Be intentional with your resources: time, money, energy.
5.| Make memories you want to keep, not forget.
6.| Be the person you want your spouse, children, family, and friends to remember.
7.| Be generous. When it comes to time, it’s gone in a flash. When it comes to money, hold it with open hands and freely give. And when it comes to love, lavish it on people.
8.| Guard your heart against bitterness. Anger and bitterness will pull you into a deep pit. Pray. Ask friends to help you. Get good pastoral and/or professional help. Surround yourself with the voices of people who encourage you to love – friends, writers, musicians.
9.| Let tragedy instruct you. Don’t go back to living the way you did before, be changed in all the best ways.
10.| Remember gratitude. Be radically thankful for the good in your life – everything. Be thankful for the smell of coffee and the sound of rain on the windows. Be thankful for the little one who smiled big at you as you walked by with your grocery cart. Be thankful for friends who reach out even when you want to be alone. Be thankful for sharp pencils and pens with good black ink. Be thankful for the breath in your lungs.
Whatever you believe about God and whether he causes or allows tragedy, or if you’re not sure he even cares, this is what I know; he enters into sorrow with us. When my dreams fill with memories and I wake up confused, God is my comfort.
One day it will all be clear, but today, we move forward allowing tragedy to shape us, making us more loving, kind, generous, and thankful.
And to the writers of ‘This is Us,’ thank you for a show that reminds of the importance of family, love, and the essential value of doing hard work to heal.
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With courage and hope for the journey, my friends,