I am a bystander – a new friend – and an American colleague who has come to work in her country. Just for a moment, in the late afternoon’s dusty air settling on a few minutes’ worth of freshly fallen rain, we are family.
It can happen to anyone.
The police report said he had come from the eye doctor and had his pupils dilated. Instead of waiting for the appropriate time to allow his eyes to see clearly, he got up from the hospital bench and walked into the street. Not being able to judge distance with his fractured eyes, in a split second he stepped into the motion of an oncoming car.
She is stuck in traffic–everyone here is. Traffic moves from fast to slow to stop. She was coming from stop to slow, when out of nowhere he appeared on the hood of her car. The kick of her brakes to stop her car slid him to the pavement where he got up and staggered back to the sidewalk, dazed and confused and blinded by the light and motion. As luck would have it, since he had just walked out of the hospital, they walked him back in where he waited…and later died.
She was resting at home, shaken from the incident, when the police came and took her to the station where she sat and waited for two days.
No fault. Wrong place. Wrong time. His condition was medically unstable blinded by late afternoon sun.
One is scared for her life; the other is buried according to the local tradition of three days.
It can happen to anyone.
This is a true story barely a few months old. The harsh truth never changes, because the unexpected twists and turns of life can change everything you’ve even known.
How you pull yourself up and push forward is the future that you will create from the brokenness you experience.
Unrelenting, faithful help came in the wide connection of friends who made calls upon calls to help her be freed from jail and it was her family who waited in anticipation when she was released. She walked out of the police station into the intermittent raindrops of a cloudy sky, down the steps and across the street to where we all waited, tears of joy streaming down our faces. She hugged us all and leaned, exhausted, upon her sister’s shoulder.
It happened in a split second, and I am struck by the idea that life changes quickly, many times not due to any mistake or issue on our part, but by the twists and turns of life’s journey and fate. And then it is about our response to it all that will determine our future. For most, the key to survive, and perhaps even to thrive, will be the connections that keep us tightly bound together when so much seems to fall apart.
I struggled with telling you this story in my weekly newsletter. It doesn’t seem to be encouraging, except for the fact of my witnessing the strong bonds of love and concern and respect that held tight during the most trying time and that will continue on her journey to healing the memory of this accident.
On that sidewalk I was struck by the magnitude of the life-changing situation I had just witnessed. Surrounded by strangers, colleagues and new friends in the dusty daily market of food stalls, espresso sellers and trinket hawkers where men call out for sales of kitchen wares, all I could think about was that if life crashed around me today, who would I call? What would I do? How would I continue on? And what would I regret that I had left undone?
Because it can happen to anyone.
I was in deep thought on the drive back to the hotel. As I got out of the car, I heard the familiar call to prayer from the minaret across the way, and I found it a curious coincidence that, thankfully, most of us end up in the daily prayers of others for health, care and safety because we are all connected in some way.
I find it surprising, however, that the NBC, CNN or Aljazeera – even your hometown paper – all seem to revel in dissecting us by race, class, wealth, politics, religion, education and every other division that has been created to tear us apart instead of keeping us together. I believe that being together is where we will find the strength, courage and power to push though the hard times, the pain and the unknown.
This week I would ask that we reconsider the idea of being separated from each other and consciously choose the idea of being tethered together by some bond we can agree upon. We all do better when we are connected to family, friends and co-workers.
I want us to refocus on the good, the positive and the loving connections in our world because life-altering change can happen to anyone, and pity the person who has no shoulder to lean on in those days and nights.
If you were to ask me, I would say that the saddest phrase I’ve ever heard (and hear often) are the words I wish. I wish I hadn’t broken up with…. or I wish I hadn’t said…. or I wish I didn’t…. I wish I could have … Oh, the regret of the two-word phrase, I wish–it has caused more heartache, pain and sorrow than was ever intended. Somehow, I’ve always imagined the phrase to be a message of hope and not a reminder of hurt.
So let me turn that around and tell you what I wish: I wish you would consider taking the opportunity to make things right with anyone in your sphere, your family or your company that you need to. It is simply a matter of setting aside your pride, arrogance, desire, loneliness or whatever excuse you have that is keeping you from doing what your heart knows to be the right way to revive or renew or restructure a broken relationship.
Granted, not all relationships need to be revived, renewed or restructured, but, remember, one day they will all be gone and it can happen in an instant. So if you ever wanted to say the words, consider speaking now through a letter, a call, a conversation or a delivery of flowers, cookies or a cake. Yes, I am all about food to make the medicine go down sweeter. Really, who can hate you when a cake is delivered to say I’m sorry.
Please hear me. I am not encouraging you to re-engage with those who are evil or purposefully damaging or bitterly unkind–I’d never ask that of you. You’re more valuable than that type of behavior allows. I am about saying hello from across the fence while they stay off my property.
But, remember, this is not for them–this is for you, because life changes quickly, and it happens to everyone.
If you are so inclined, make a final connection to settle a conversation or gently end a broken relationship or acknowledge a past issue, but do so quickly without drama or rancor–just finish the job, and close the book.
I’ll never forget a call from a lady who lived in my district. When I answered the phone she said, “I’m trying to figure out why everyone in my neighborhood likes you…because my family and I don’t.” She went on to relay a story about her young son meeting me to talk about a political issue on which we disagreed. In the end, the 16-year-old didn’t think I treated him with the respect he felt he was due since I didn’t acknowledge his brilliance on the topic of his interest. So his family held this against me for years. I don’t recall the full extent of the mother’s conversation, but by the end she accepted my apology and would relay it to her son. I mentioned the incident to a friend about how much it bothered me to be attacked and criticized when the kid was misinformed on the issue. He suggested that, since I was the adult, I should send a written note of apology to the son. I didn’t want to, and I had a hundred good excuses why, but the truth is none of them mattered.
I wrote an apology. I never heard from them and I have no idea if they vote for me, but if a simple note could heal an old wound, then why not? It had nothing to do with me being right; it had to do with my desire to uphold my personal value of respect for all. It’s funny. I had not thought about that story until I started writing this newsletter, which brings me to my theme of when you do the right thing, over time, even you will forget the conflict. So while you can, be kind, be gracious and be done. Everyone will be better for your actions.