But for the Grace of God...

By Will Baker


The earthquake that recently killed tens of thousands of people in Turkey was a reminder to us all of the fragility of the lives which we construct for ourselves. The folks that were killed and maimed, not unlike ourselves, had hopes and dreams and aspirations. However theirs were violently interrupted as the ground shook and their worlds tumbled down all about them. Of course, the quick media response to the event was an indictment of the construction methods used in their country. I have heard it repeated many times in the past week that if their buildings had been built utilizing more modern construction techniques, many lives would have been saved. And I am sure that that is true, however it seems to me that this response may be intended to make us, in the more "developed" countries, feel secure. When the fact is that there is really no security against this type of event. We are not in control of our lives to that degree, even though we sometimes feel the need to be.

It seems to me that our hopes and dreams and aspirations are the looms upon which we weave our lives. And the thread we use is the commitment with which we focus our actions. And this thread is fragile stuff. Absent even some terribly violent act of nature, living a committed life, struggling from moment to moment to do the right thing is not an easy task. And understanding that the purpose of all of this is not to complete the weaving, but to simple weave, is a difficult notion to fathom. I have heard life referred to as "a journey." For me this is close, but does not quite hit the mark. I believe that life is the journey. "A journey" implies a beginning, middle and end, while the journey does not.

When an event such as the earthquake in Turkey occurs, where folks on a grand scale suddenly find themselves homeless, jobless and grieving the loss of loved ones we witness different reactions. We see folks acting in ways that demonstrate that they may feel robbed of things that were due them: "This terrible thing has happened to me. Is there no justice!" But we also may witness incredible acts of selflessness. I remember seeing video of one of the earthquake survivors, his immediate family presumed dead, his house destroyed; yet he was working non-stop to rescue others that might still be alive. I would argue that the former has stepped away from the loom while the latter was still weaving.

And as observers we must grapple with our own reactions to such events. As with the news reports of the shoddy building techniques utilized by the Turks, we can concoct rational defenses to make ourselves feel more secure against the reality that bad things do happen to good people. Some folks look at events such as this earthquake as the basis for believing that nothing really matters. Why plan and hope and dream when the rug can be so easily pulled out from under you? Yet others direct their empathy towards the victims and survivors of such events, and in doing so may come to the realization that life is a precious gift, and that every good moment must be savored, and every bad moment must be transformed into something better than it is.

So what in the world does an earthquake half way around the world have to do with us? I believe a great deal. At the very least the experience demonstrates that, "but for the grace of God go I."

(Essay Collection)