A Reflection by Danny Schweers for January 8, 2023
They died and I did nothing. Most died alone. They were caught in a blizzard and died even though they lived in a city. They went on foot looking for food or loved ones. Others were trapped in their cars. Others were warm in homes with poorly-ventilated heating systems. They died.
Winter Storm Elliott hit Buffalo, New York on a Friday, two days before Christmas in 2022. By the following Wednesday, the body count was 37 for those who had died in Erie County and, as I wrote this reflection, more bodies were expected to be found.
Already, fingers are being pointed, but surely no one will point a finger at me. No one will blame me. Why should they? I was hundreds of miles away. I could not get there in time to do any good. Even the emergency responders there on the scene could do little, and they were professionals.
Why then does it bother me that they died and I did nothing? Even if they rose from the dead, I do not imagine the victims of this storm would point a finger at me. If our places were reversed, I imagine they would have gone about their business and pleasure. They would have sung Christmas carols at church on Christmas Eve. They would have enjoyed spiked egg-nog and delicious food with new and old friends on Christmas night. They would have been joyfully oblivious even as my body lay undiscovered under feet of snow or in a home full of carbon monoxide. I would not blame them.
So it is not a matter of blame. That’s not what bothers me. What bothers me has to do with the distance that separates us from one another. If today is an average day, 153,424 people will die — and that’s just on this planet! If today is an average day, I will not know any of those who die. Yet I feel connected to them, for they are like me. Someday, perhaps today, I will die, and most of the living will go on living as if nothing has happened. Surely my life and death mean something. The lives of the 153,424 who will die today mean something — even if their lives are remote from mine.
In this, my trust in God is a comfort. The gap between divine and human is vast, but God bridged it in Bethlehem. As the Christmas carol says, that was “in the bleak midwinter” when “Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone”. God is with us.
Because God is with us, I can pray when I am suffering, not just for myself but all those like me. My suffering connects me to them in prayer. The distance is bridged. And because God is with us, I can give praise when I am joyful, not just for myself but with all who are joyful. The distance is bridged.
Those suffering are praying. The joyful are giving praise. Because God is with us, we are with the suffering and the joyful. Every distance is bridged. Thank God! Hallelujah!
So I say when I am full of the Spirit. God help me when I am not!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danny N. Schweers chairs SsAM’s Communication Committee. He is an active photographer and writer. Click here to visit his website and make a comment.
Photo above is by the author — ice in Naaman’s Creek, Arden, Delaware during Winter Storm Elliott.