Is there a gift in tragedy?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It is hard to wrap my mind around the destruction caused by the tornadoes that ripped through Alabama in April. That lives ended and material possessions disappeared in such a short time is hard to grasp and brings the realization that forces beyond our human control can, in an instant, change everything we know as reality.

Through all of the images of loss and sadness that play repeatedly on television runs another thread, another emotion. A wave of caring, concern and desire to be part of healing the hurt rose almost as soon as the storms departed.

From across the state and beyond, people poured in, anxious to find ways to help, ready to do something, anything to make a difference for those whose lives the storm ripped apart. That, for me, is an important part of the story of this tragedy. It is a message about the innate goodness that lies in the human heart and surfaces when the need arises.

There are so many stories of people coming to the aid of others, of acts of kindness and courage. One of the most touching ones to me came to light a few days ago and spoke to how compassion extended returns — or to paraphrase the Bible what you give out, comes back to you.

Last week news agencies reported on a donation to Alabama of $125,000 worth of aid in the form of 8,000 blankets and 150 huge pieces of plastic sheeting. The donor is the Japanese people, who still struggle with their own recovery from a record earthquake and tsunami.

In announcing the aid, a Japanese official said it was his country’s way of repaying some of the gratitude they feel for the help Americans sent to them. Japan’s Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, said the tornado damage reminded him of the earthquake and tsunami. In another story, Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange, said Alabamians appreciate the supplies.

“As I have traveled throughout Alabama this last week visiting with people who are struggling from the tornado damage, I can assure that these supplies are greatly needed and will be much appreciated by our people. This gesture is a sign of the goodwill between our countries, for which we are thankful,” Strange said

While it is indeed a gesture of goodwill between the countries, I think it is something much more profound. It is recognition of our connection to each other, an understanding that we share the same feelings and needs. It is the understanding that when our brothers and sisters are hurting, we put aside any differences that arise in our heads and find common ground in our hearts.

When I think about the devastation, I have a hard time coming to terms with the pain and destruction and I ache for the sadness and loss suffered by so many. However, in the midst of that sadness, my heart feels lifted up by the love that is rushing in to comfort and help mend those lives.

The opening of our hearts to love and compassion for others is perhaps the gift we can find within the pain of this tragedy. Allowing those feelings of connection and caring to become more a part of how we live every day is, I think, a great memorial to those who died in the furry of that April storm.