If I were to write a guest column for Oprah on What I Know For Sure, it would begin like this: Life is unpredictable; change is the only certainty. Nothing is guaranteed, not the next five minutes, not even tomorrow.
I was reminded of this last week, as I hid from a tornado under a mountain of blankets in my closet. The tornado did not find me, but it discovered my younger sister, miles away, and had its way with her home.
The storm re-ordered her life by only a few degrees; she lost some photos, art and other precious things, but was at work when the tornado huffed and puffed and blew her roof in. But it was on this same frightful day that my older sister was battling a bigger storm, as her husband lay in intensive care after a terrible car accident.
On this day, and those that followed, fate had me stand in the bleachers as a bystander and watch life change and reshape itself into something new for those I love. My job was that of the witness, and it was not an easy one.
I wasn’t the only witness present during these days. I remember the faces of other witnesses, strangers, little kids with chocolate chip colored eyes who giggled and smeared Happy Meals all over their mouths and onto chairs in the intensive care waiting room.
They were running from chair to chair, a burst of energy in a room of hush, happily ignorant of the drama playing out behind closed doors just feet away. I wanted to be one of them; I envied them their ignorance though not their angry mother. But she had her hands full with five young children and an uncertain future being played out behind the scene, beyond the waiting room, behind the intensive care doors.
There were storms of all sorts behind those doors, victims of car accidents, victims of wrathful tornadoes.
I remember much about that day, little brown-eyed, hope-filled boys and girls creating joy and chaos in the gloom of the waiting room. I remember too, a string of visitors marching through hospital halls in a parade of grace, and a kind janitor who took an extraordinarily long time dusting and making sterile the hospital room I was visiting.
I remember sitting with my sister, knowing silence was the only grace I could offer her.
There is more to say (my brother-in-law and sisters are doing well as of this writing), but I won’t, because it is not my story to tell. Only this piece of it, the story of the bystander, the witness to grace, the watcher, the one who prays.
In the last week, I’ve been reminded about the unpredictability of life. And I’ve learned that some storms bring big changes and re-order priorities.
But the biggest storms of all, the ones that unearth our worlds, our perception of life as it “should be” or is supposed to be, create clarity about what we value most. This too, is what I would tell Oprah I know for sure.
If you’re interested in more thoughts on integrity, compassion and grace–if you’re looking for exploratory questions to unearth pieces of your soul, check out my book, Tao Flashes. Or visit me at http://www.facebook.com/taoflashes or on twitter @taoflashes.