On this profoundly meaningful day of Easter, it doesn’t seem any easier to find the meaning behind why terrible things happen.
Tragedy has occurred with enough regularity in our community to test our faith. Some of us deposit that faith in God and we will spend today seeking redemption – and answers – in places of worship. Others of us eschew organized religion but still believe in community, in humanism and good will between people.
None of us have the answers.
I wanted to write today about what drives some of us to believe in the Resurrection and the miracle of a savior who hears our prayers. But day after day, in story after story in my own newspaper, doubt seemed to spring between the lines of narratives that were devoid of anything good.
Earlier this month, a 35-year-old father and his teenage daughter were killed instantly on Antelope Road when suspected car thieves being chased by police slammed into their vehicle.
José Luis Barriga-Tovar and his daughter Anahi, 14, were beloved members of an immigrant family from Mexico that believed in God and worked to the bone for a little slice of comfort – a clean apartment, toys for the kids, the hope of a better future.
Why did they die this way?
Then, about a week later, a bus ferrying a group of Southern California high school seniors on a trip of discovery and upward mobility exploded on Interstate 5 near Orland when a tractor-trailer careened violently into its path. The students were heading toward a tour of Humboldt State, but five of them perished along with an equal number of adults. Some of the kids were going to be the first in their families to attend college. They were going to shatter barriers of poverty and obtain educations that would have honored the hard work of their parents.
Witnesses tried to reach the victims as they shrieked for help but were prevented from doing so by a roadway barrier too tall for them to climb. They could only watch young people die on the side of the road on an otherwise beautiful day.
Last year, an adorable young girl ate what appeared to be a harmless snack on an overnight excursion to Camp Sacramento along Highway 50 in the Eldorado National Forest. At 13, Natalie Giorgi suddenly experienced the symptoms of a fatal food allergy and rushed to her parents for help. Her mom and dad saw terror in her eyes as she stopped breathing. They tried to save her. They couldn’t.
Allergic to peanuts, Natalie apparently consumed part of a Rice Krispies treat containing peanut butter before spitting it out too late.
On Friday, the grieving parents from Carmichael filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Sacramento, owners of the campsite where generations of city kids have gone to experience the wonder of nature.
How does any of this make sense? What kind of God would stand by while children precede their parents in death?
The Bee, like all news outlets, is often accused in social media of crafting exploitative headlines and stories to boost our bottom line at the expense of these and other victims. My own “Facebook friends” make these accusations all the time in snarky posts.
Sometimes you see people render easy judgments on the victims: How dare the Barriga-Tovar family even think of hiring a lawyer or speak of financial restitution for what they have endured? Isn’t that unseemly?
The Giorgi family has retained Roger Dreyer as their attorney. He is arguably the most formidable and successful personal injury lawyer in Sacramento.
While the Giorgi family said they filed their suit to raise awareness around fatal food allergies, one commenter on sacbee.com wrote, “Tragic to be sure, but I smell a misguided raid on a faceless ‘city’ pocketbook.”
Such judgments also are described in Scripture. In the book of Job, God’s favorite son is brutally stripped of all that he loves in life despite his unwavering faith. Then pious “friends” torment him and their phony words of comfort only deepen Job’s grief and isolation.
These aren’t comforting thoughts, and they kept me up late this week as I searched for answers in Job and other works, both biblical and non-biblical. Nothing helped.
Then I listened to a recording of an interview on National Public Radio out of Boston. In it, Greg Epstein, a humanist chaplain at Harvard University, said the only alternative to the pain of tragic events is to stop caring at all.
We feel loss and pain because we care.
“The price of love is pain and still we pay,” Epstein said. All we can have, he said, is “a willingness to continue to hope.”
Many of us have been moved by recent tragic events out of real compassion for the victims. That compassion can endure after the headlines fade.
We may never find an answer to the question of “why,” but there is comfort in trying to find it. There is comfort in believing that someone else cares and that we are not alone, even when it seems that we are.