As hurricane Irene bears down upon us, Mass was packed at 5 P.M. with those who know that Irene will prevent anyone from going tomorrow. The question on everyone’s lips, as many in my parish were mandatorily evacuated from their homes, was “WHY?”
Why does God permit these things to happen? Why the destruction, the hardship? Why doesn’t He spare us? Father’s answer was not entirely clear or satisfactory to most. Thinking about it on the way home, I came at it from several perspectives.
Droughts are good for killing certain infectious microbes in an area. Forest fires similarly wipe away threats, and renew the face of the earth. Out of the fertilizing ashes of the old, comes new and hardy life. Volcanic eruptions perform similar renewing effects. Hurricanes end droughts and replenish reservoirs for city dwellers. Earthquakes result from the shifting plates of the earth’s crust.
All of these events are a part of the earth’s own life cycle. They help to renew the face of the planet, and in the long run, they actually support life. In the process, however, people die. People are left homeless and without food. They are injured and frightened. These are the issues upper-most in people’s minds.
Earlier today, the following wryly humorous posting began making its way around my FaceBook community:
As Hurricane Irene prepares to batter the East Coast, federal disaster officials have warned that Internet outages could force people to interact with other people for the first time in years. Residents are bracing themselves for the horror of awkward silences & unwanted eye contact. FEMA has advised: “Be prepared. Write down possible topics to talk about in advance. Sports, the weather, etc. Remember, a conversation is basically a series of Facebook updates strung together.”
There is much truth in this.
Perhaps God permits tragedy to call us out of ourselves, to give us the opportunity to escape our insularity and see His face in those of our needy brothers and sisters. I think of 9/11 and its aftermath, of the tsunami of love and support that washed over New Yorkers as nothing I’d ever seen before. The nation and the world dropped all and dropped to their knees in prayer. They gave to the widows and orphans of 9/11 in money and material that simply overwhelmed us.
We are a crusty, hard-bitten lot here in this city. We’re impatient and love to show that impatience with our embarrassingly aggressive driving. Yet, for months afterward, New Yorkers were actually courteous behind the wheel! Even more alarmingly, we were deferential!!! Tragedy slowed us down and allowed us to share in our common humanity.
Sometime around January 2002, the city began to heal from the trauma, as evidenced by the blaring horns and the return to shorter tempers. I have always wondered, though, which was the true healing; the kindness or the blaring horns and aggressive driving?
It tends to refocus the question from this evening and redirect it. The question isn’t why God permits tragedy. He does so to help us regain the best of our humanity.
The real question is why the lesson is so short-lived?