In the blink of an eye, the Lear jet on which my father was traveling to a business meeting out-of-state, missed the runway and crashed into Lake Michigan. He had been declared in perfect health just the week earlier when he had gone in for his yearly physical. Yet he was gone in the blink of an eye. He walked out our front door on a cold, damp November 6th morning and never came back. I was twelve years old.
In the blink of an eye, speeding cars, driven by people focused on their own hurried agendas, pass through intersections on red lights instead of yellow ones. Pedestrians and bicyclists can be the unlucky recipients of these drivers’ obsession with self. So in the blink of an eye, consciousness is instantly separated from unconsciousness, wholeness from brokenness, and well-laid plans from disjointed futures. I was twenty when I was hit as a pedestrian and forty-five when I was hit as a cyclist.
In the blink of an eye, young drivers underestimate the effect of too much rain on asphalt. In the blink of an eye, slick curves are mis-negotiated and cars skid off roads. One blink yields healthy teenagers’ heads pounding with concussions, and sends anxious parents to emergency rooms around the globe.
Homes burn down. Pregnancies end in miscarriage. Loved ones hear proclamations of horrible diagnoses. In the blink of an eye.
And yet in the blink of an eye, newlyweds take first kisses, babies take first breaths, and toddlers take first steps. Athletes win gold medals and cyclists the Tour de France. Colleges accept graduating high school seniors, football teams win Homecoming, and actresses earn leading roles.
None of us ever think about the time slot of a blink of an eye. Yet so much of life happens just there.
As Lance Armstrong writes in Every Second Counts: “Mortal illness, like most personal catastrophes, comes on suddenly. There’s no great sense of foreboding, no premonition, you just wake up one morning and something’s wrong in your lungs, or your liver, or your bones. But near-death cleared the decks, and what came after was a bright, sparkling awareness: time is limited, so I better wake up every morning fresh and know that I have just one chance to live this particular day right, and to string my days together into a life of action, and purpose.”
These past eighteen days have certainly held their share of personal introspection. They have forced me to think of how I want to best string my days. For in the blink of an eye a couple of Mondays ago, the doctor told me of my son’s leukemia, as well as his chances for total healing. Armstrong hit it head-on: there is no warning to some of the bumps in life’s journey. Yup. One minute you are sitting there minding your own business and the next minute you are smack dab in the emergency room watching a perfect stranger drawing blood from your cancer-stricken child. That night was supposed to have drawn me to the bleachers for “senior night,” when my varsity-soccer-team-son was going to bring me a long-stemmed rose to say “thank you” for my support. Instead, I was drawn into the pediatric oncology ward for x-rays, transfusions, and an eleven-day stay with my horrified 17-year-old who had just been told of his percentages-chance for mere survival. No warning. Yet in the blink of an eye.
So just how do we deal with those events that arrive too suddenly, too quickly, and too unexpectedly? Horrible or wonderful: how do we make sense of that bit of life that happens in the blink of an eye?
First of all, be spiritually grounded. Know thy maker. Have an intimate, love relationship with your Creator. For although you will undoubtedly question the events, cry for mercy, and pray for relief from suffering, it is more difficult to challenge the Creator when you meditate on the knowledge that “you were fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that “all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” I have, indeed, had my fair share of questions these past few days, but at some point I have also had the distinct realization that there are times when the clay shouldn’t question the potter. God knew what He was doing when He created each one of us, and, although He didn’t necessarily ordain illness and injury to enter our days, He is certainly not surprised by any of it.
Secondly, be grounded in your relationships. Your spouse, children, parents, neighbors, and friends were all gifted to you. They were placed into your life by a loving God whose master plan orchestrated their intervention. I have no doubt that the neighbors and friends who have embraced and enveloped our family have been put there precisely to help us out during this significant time in our family’s history. And as I reflect back on my entire life, I am well aware of the placement of specific people into my life at distinct points in my journey. Again, from Lance Armstrong: “What surviving cancer teaches you is the magnitude of your dependence on others, not just for self-definition, but for your mere existence. Cancer robs you of your independence; you’re reliant on friends, family, and complete strangers, stoic doctors and nurses, and when you finally recover you’re never casual about your place in the human chain.”
Lastly, cast a wide net. Allow complete strangers to enter your world and meet you exactly where you are. During times of tragedy as well as during times of joy: allow others to indulge their goodwill with acts of hospitality and generosity. Perfect strangers will write you encouraging and powerful emails, send you cheerful notes and cards, and cook you healthy and wholesome meals. The world is a very wide web. And its circle goes round and round….one day it will be your time to return all of those favors and to take a different place in it.
Experiences that happen in the blink of an eye are meant to be shared. Through your suffering or through your joy, others will want to enter into your life equation. Let them. For life that happens in the blink of an eye was never meant to be lived alone. If we can share these blinks with others, and if we can both learn a lesson as well as pass one along, then we have, indeed, done something quite extraordinary. So in addition to living your life wisely, live it exuberantly. Live it with celebration with others. Wake up with fresh and vibrant expectancy. And graciously accept the goodness, serendipity, and divine intervention that will—without a doubt—come your way.