Tragedy strikes a man who isn’t yet old. A mini-van traveling toward him on a dark mountain highway hits his car nearly head-on just after sunset. He grasps his steering wheel hard and veers into the rocky mountainside until his car screeches to a halt. The mini-van flips onto its side and skids in the other direction off the cliff, plummeting 500 feet to the ground. Inside is a young family of five. He doesn’t recall the events that followed during the next few days. He doesn’t recall the three eye witnesses who comforted him and assured him that it wasn’t his fault – that the other driver had swerved into his lane. He doesn’t recall how he got to the emergency room or the fact that he stayed there for five days to treat a concussion and a broken collar bone.
What he does know – and clearly recalls – are the endless string of days he passes sitting alone in his bedroom, crying, and thinking, “Why me?” Why after forty-eight years of Sunday church attendance, unwavering faith, and regular community volunteering and charity, would God ask him to spend the rest of his life knowing that he singlehandedly killed an entire family? He has a loving, supporting family that tries to comfort his ailing heart, but he can only see them as the loving family he has taken from the world. He also has an overflowing network of close friends who want to see him smile again, but they now represent friends that others have lost because of him.
The man who isn’t yet old begins to age more rapidly. Within a few short months, he is a shell of his former self – skin and bones, wrinkles creasing across his face, a despondent downward gaze, and a hole in his heart that has grown so wide he feels like there’s nothing left at all. All of the people around him – those family members and friends who care so much – have done everything in their power to revive him to his former self. When love didn’t work, they tried relaxing vacations. When vacations didn’t work, they tried getting him involved in community activities. When the community activities didn’t work, they tried doctors. And now they have resigned from trying. Because the man who is now an old man has completely resigned from everything.
A night comes when he decides that it’s just not worth it any more – that it’s time to leave this world behind. Perhaps to go somewhere better. Perhaps to go nowhere at all. Luckily, he decides to sleep on it, because he barely has the strength to keep his eyelids open. So he closes his eyes and instantly falls into a deep sleep. And he begins to dream. In it, he is sitting in a dimly lit room at a round table across from an elderly woman who looks much like his late mother. They stare at each other in silence for several minutes and then the elderly woman speaks.
“My son, tragedy is simply a miracle waiting to be discovered. Because within tragedy lie the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy. If we choose to plant these seeds, they grow strong. If, on the other hand, we choose to overlook them, we prolong our tragedy and let somebody else to discover the miracle.” The old man cries in his dream and in his sleep. He thinks about his wife, and his children, and all of the wonderful people who care for him. And he suddenly realizes that instead of using the tragic accident to notice how precious life is, he has prolonged the tragedy and essentially ceased to live his life. And he is very close, now, to passing all of his pain and sorrow over to the people he loves most in this world.
He opens his eyes and takes a deep breath. He is alive. He realizes that he still has an opportunity to change things… To mend the broken pieces and experience the miracle that comes after the tragedy… To plant the seeds of love, learning, forgiveness, and empathy, and water these seeds until they grow strong. He rolls over and kisses his wife on the cheek and ruffles her hair until her eyelids begin to flutter. She opens her eyes and looks at him, totally confused. There’s a spark in his eyes that she hasn’t seen in a long while – a spark that she thought had died with his youth on the day of the accident. “I love you so much,” he says. “I’ve missed you,” she replies. “Welcome back.”