A blink of an eye

My son Andrew was bounding toward graduation and a job overseas when life suddenly threw him a curve. Actually, it was a Frisbee, and he was leaping to block it during an Ultimate game when his opponent came crashing down on his leg, snapping his tibia in the blink of an eye. 

In a blink of an eye, term papers and ceremonies and all the post-graduation tasks have become dramatically more complicated. And rather than thinking about careers and jobs and travel, we are simply looking two days ahead to his surgery. 

Life does this to us. It surprises us, and not all of the surprises are good ones. The same day I received the news about the need for surgery, I learned about the Boston Marathon bombings. By the time you read this column, you will know a lot more about this event than I do right now. 

The images are horrendous. It’s like Baghdad, one person said. Of course, Baghdad or Damascus or Aleppo or any of a dozen other routine scenes of horror are worse because these kinds of terror are woven into the daily fabric of life there. A measure of our privileged and protected existence is that we still have the capacity to be shocked by terror’s unexpectedness. 

Boston Marathon vigil
Local residents attend a candlelight vigil in the Dorchester section of Boston April 16, where Boston Marathon bombing victim Martin Richard lived. CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters

The images of Boston were horrible because we saw people who could be us, who dressed like us — either as spectators or runners — and then suddenly the shirt, the pants, the shoes, the jackets are shredded and bloodied. What was one minute a cheering throng encouraging the runners as they neared the goal line in a blink of an eye became casualties in a war zone. 

I think life is made bearable for us because we do not contemplate all the risks we daily encounter — cars running red lights, planes dropping from the sky, a virus attaching itself to us, a clot forming slowly. We would go mad thinking about all these risks. People do go mad thinking about all these risks. Most of us, however, operate somewhere between trust and learned obliviousness.  

And thanks to science and medicine and clean water, we expect to live long and fairly happy lives. Instead of counting our blessings, however, we want more. We worry about whether coffee causes cancer, whether organic vegetables prevent it, whether this diet or that exercise routine, this herb or that medicine, can guarantee us still more years. 

And yet in a blink of an eye, we will be embraced by Sister Death. Every one of us. Guaranteed. We do everything possible to avoid thinking about this unavoidable fact (even the rich have discovered that while taxes can be cheated, death cannot), yet it is 100 percent inevitable. 

Christian men and women used to think a good deal about death when life was much shorter and less sanitized. Such contemplation of what can happen in the blink of an eye is sometimes a first step toward the contemplation of a reality beyond our own.  

Our faith is not a talisman against the bomb blast or the clot. We don’t have magic powers to preserve us always and everywhere from harm. Our faith is that we will one day see the Lord standing on the shore beckoning to us as he beckoned to Peter in the boat. Our faith is that the Lord has vanquished death, and this victory changes everything. 

There are no easy words for those whose lives have been turned upside down — in Boston or in Newtown, Conn., or in Baghdad. Life is guaranteed to change for all of us in a blink of an eye, and yet we know that there is a love that surpasses understanding, and this love gives us the courage to go forward, to love others, to sacrifice for others, even to lay down our lives for others. This love is not for a blink of the eye. It is forever. 

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.