I remember watching The Weather Channel one evening a couple of years ago. It was a Monday in May. The channel’s reporters were discussing the devastation of the tornado damage from earlier that day. They showed a local Oklahoma City TV reporter sharing the latest information about a school that was in rubble, where a search-and-rescue effort had been renamed a recovery effort.
The bodies of seven schoolchildren already had been found.
“They think there are 20 to 30 more children in there,” the reporter said.
As he tried to continue talking, he couldn’t. He choked up, turned around, and attempted to collect himself. I thought back to my Missouri School of Journalism training and the on-the-job instructions I had in more than 20 years as a newspaperman. Though never told this specifically, it always was implied: Don’t become emotionally invested in what you’re reporting because it can cloud how you tell the story.
Anyone with a heart would know that’s impossible in many situations.
This was one of those situations. I felt for that reporter – though obviously I felt even more deeply for the children who lost their lives, for the parents of those children, and for the hundreds of others who died, were injured or lost their homes and belongings.
Once again, it drove home the fact that we never should take life for granted and should somehow savor every moment.
It made me remember a story I recently read involving Tommy Lasorda, of all people. Lasorda, a devoted Catholic, was the gregarious manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers for many years, as outgoing as any person you ever would meet. He was a salesman of sorts, one of the greatest ambassadors the game of baseball has known.
The story I read had been written some years ago and involved Lasorda’s son, who died at the age of 33. Lasorda clearly missed his son, but he had mourned for him and moved on. In fact, he seemed able to focus on everything positive despite many difficult aspects to his son’s life and the reason for his death (AIDS).
One quote from Lasorda has stuck with me. It went something like this:
“If God had come to me and said, ‘I will give you a son, but you will have him for only 33 years. Do you still want him?’, my answer would have been an absolute ‘Yes.’”
What a thought. What a way of looking at a horrible deal of the cards.
I don’t know if I could do that. Take away one of my children now and I would be as devastated as the homes and families in Oklahoma. Take away my wife or a good friend, and I wouldn’t be able to think only of the good times and the blessing I enjoyed for however long it was. I would be heart-broken and lament all that could have been, all that should have been. My mom was 75, not close to 33, when she passed away in May; I still felt like I lost her too soon.
How do you look disaster in the eye and gain Lasorda’s perspective? I have known people who lost their children at young ages; I don’t know that they ever have gotten over it. I’d be like those people, which is part of the reason my heart goes out to them and why that reporter had such difficulty talking in that moment.
Interviewers talked to some of the people whose homes were obliterated. On camera they said they were happy to be alive, that whatever material things – house, furniture, clothes, cars – were lost can be replaced. True enough, but some of those things that are lost can’t be replaced, things that took a lifetime to create, memories more tangible because of pictures or artwork or letters that can’t be recaptured.
And yet life is the most important, without a doubt. There is no replacing a life.
So we talk about enjoying life while we can, cherishing every moment spent with loved ones because you never know when it will be snatched away by a tornado or hurricane, car accident or disease. I tell myself that’s what I must try to do; that seeing the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing and the Oklahoma and Joplin tornadoes and all those other tragedies that occur somewhat regularly are those wakeup calls that come along (unfortunately) so often. I should never forget. I should savor.
I don’t know how to savor, though, try as I might. I’m not good at celebrating the joys that come along every day, of imprinting the mark of every person and aspect of life with which I am blessed in a deep and profound way.
Life gets busy, sometimes overwhelming. At other times life is routine, and I get caught up in doing my job, watching TV, following baseball stuff for my fantasy team, catching up on Facebook, taking out the trash, figuring out how to make the lawn look better (and failing), and cooking dinner and emptying the dishwasher and . . . .
Suddenly time has passed, and I haven’t paid close attention to the really important things: To the people. Then another wakeup call comes along, and I vow I will do better. Some day maybe I will.
Until then I’m hoping I won’t feel guilty if that moment of devastation comes along for me. I feel for that TV reporter and for Tommy Lasorda. And for all those victims of unexpected tragedy.
God bless them all.