Two significant events occurred in the past week, one global and the other local. On December 5, Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95, and in the early hours of this morning a fire broke out in downtown Ripon. The memorial service for Mandela was attended by countless world leaders (well not countless, surely someone counted them), including four United States presidents. Firefighters, reporters and curious spectators viewed the blaze downtown this morning. At first, Mandela’s death seems isolated from the fire in our small town. But though both of these events, I see a connection.
These events are what make us human.
I read the status of a Facebook friend this morning who wrote, “A man at the gas station (I was at the BP station by Save A Lot) noticed the fire department plate on my truck and asked if I was a fireman. I kind of laughed and told him no, but my husband is. He asked if he is at the fire in town and when I said that he’s been there since 3:30 [a.m.] he told me to, ‘tell him thank you for risking his own safety and life for others.’ I just about tipped over — couldn’t be a prouder wife at that moment!”
Through the tragedy of this morning and the sadness and celebration of Madiba’s passing we are reminded of the care and love in the world and in our community. My Facebook newsfeed is full of people listing the items needed by the Ripon families whose Main St. apartments suffered damage. Before 11 a.m., I was made aware of the ways First Congregational Church of Ripon is planning to help these families through donations of soup, money and other items.
From both of these sad events I am filled with joy. I feel jubilant that God has given us the gift of compassion that we can share with others. When we suffer heartache we don’t suffer alone. God mourns with us and gives us brothers and sisters to carry the burden as well.
This year, in my own thoughts, I’ve explored what it means to be human. What I’ve found most compelling is how we react to times when life is really tough. From those moments I’ve seen the most beauty in people, and I believe that is a direct expression of God’s presence within all of us.
From the physical loss of Mandela I have seen a world that has taken time to celebrate his beliefs, not because they were his but because they are all of ours: love, education, resilience, harmony. From the downtown fire I see care from the community for the families and business owners on that block, even when some of us don’t know any of those affected by name.
In a previous blog post Pastor Joanna wrote that the image of baby Jesus is one of her favorite depictions of him. I would agree with her. I believe that visualizing Jesus as a tiny baby is an image of each one of us. We cannot avoid the pain of tragedy and we feel helpless when it comes. But we are surrounded by wise men, angels, shepherds, Marys, and Josephs who take care of us and who love us.
We are made in the image of Jesus, but I also think we are made in the image of all who attended his birth, and in this way we have the gift of compassion and love to share with the world.