There’s really no reason why I should be alive today.
There were plenty of folks who died that night, 39 people, young and old, who were far more faithful…or innocent…than I. From a merit perspective, it still makes no sense to me. But I generally live with it quietly on a daily basis, except for each November 6.
A few years ago, upon returning to my alma mater, the Univ. of Georgia, for another degree, I stopped by my beloved Toccoa Falls. Everything rolled over me. Everything. The good (and bad) memories, the places, the secrets…the people l loved and lost. It still does every time I go back home.
My mortality probably haunts me the worst on this particular day of the year. There is nothing quite like the absolute certainty of death for five minutes while you are swirling through a flood. A 50-ft wall of water had gone by my bedroom window around 60 mph. Yes, I indeed had an electrifying moment of clarity about life, death, right and wrong. And much of my life since then has been a struggling effort to recapture that clarity. But I promised God if He helped me write through (and get through) another day and another degree…I’d write about this experience each year. Something, anyway.
Last year, someone half-jokingly asked me how long it took for me to figure out what the flood had really done to me. It hit me that writing about it on social media had begun to draw it out of me and brought me to some realization about its impact. Writers’ wounds are pretty much basic source material for most of their stories…and their problems. I don’t mind telling you that this day still makes me wonder. It still frames my perspective. It still makes me weep.
A few weeks ago, almost on cue, someone at a party in Western Pennsylvania realized that I lived in Northeast Georgia during the flood and asked if I knew anything about it… And again, I found myself with an unexpected audience, and somewhat embarrassedly telling how I had survived. I know I have too often lost that clarity of eternal significance in the midst of life’s complexities, desires, victories, losses and monotony. I know I’ve fallen way short despite what my official bio says. I know my real legacy. I know my life each day carries with it a responsibility, be it in the midst of blessing or pain. And I’m reminded that the smartest guy who ever lived once said that in this life we learn a lot more at a funeral than we do at a feast. After all, that’s where we all end up. Eccl 7:2 MSG…read it yourself.
So each year I’m reminded that a bitter thing can be good thing in the grand scheme of all things…even when it’s still a painful thing…even November 6.