It couldn’t have been a more perfectly serene May day. A smattering of clouds drifted across a happy sky. There was scarcely a breath of breeze. My two little ones beckoned a couple of friends walking by to play as I stood chatting with their mom in our front yard.
You never would’ve guessed it was even possible. But I will never forget that unmistakeable wooden crack. Not the crack of a stick underfoot. More like the sharp announcement of an entire tree. Our eyes followed the sound across the street where a 60 foot, healthy-looking tree was falling of its own accord, in seeming slow motion.
My first thought was of the kids. What direction was the tree falling? Was it going to fall into our yard? Was there time to get the kids out of the way?
My thoughts were cut short as the tree landed with a thunderous whoosh and a thud – safely in the neighbor’s yard, narrowly missing their house and our yard.
Still, we stood dumbfounded. There was no tornado, no recent rain that had saturated the ground, not so much as a stiff breeze. How could this have happened?
Sometimes I think that in the old days, people just accepted things like spontaneously falling trees. If a man’s wife died in childbirth, I imagine that he accepted, through his grief, that childbirth is an extreme process, often with tragic results.
But it’s different these days. We live in the Information Age. We are empowered with tools like Wikipedia and Google that give us the idea that we can predict, prevent and prepare our way to controlling life’s pitfalls.
It’s true that knowledge is power, but still, sometimes things just happen. Sometimes the friend that never touched a granule of sugar, gets cancer and dies within months, leaving her husband and small children grasping for answers. Sometimes that interview you gave textbook answers to, fails to get you the job. Sometimes a tree falls simply because that was the day the tree was meant to fall.
These are the hardest realities, I think – the ones with no rhyme or reason. Whenever I hear of fatal car accidents, I always feel this intense urge to know the details. Was the driver drunk? Texting? Was it a heart attack? Were the roads icy?
Fear is my motivation for obtaining these answers. I need to know so that I can prevent this from happening to me and my family. We all do it – sometimes I see something terrible happen in my city and just watch as people get more and more frantic When the tragedy fails to abide by a formula. They need answers, reasons, ways to prevent this tragedy from happening again, and when they don’t get them, they attack the victim, the lawmakers, each other.
I like to pretend that I have manufactured my fate up to this point. I convince myself that I have made calculated decisions based on my own meticulous research and good sense about any number of life events. But …this is (mostly) an illusion. The reality is that my safe little control study box is nothing if not the entire world coming at me from all sides. I’m a sitting duck and a plane could fall out of the sky and land on my house any moment now.
I’m not gonna pretend I’m okay with this. But I also have no choice but to be okay with this. Now, hopefully I can keep myself from winning a Darwin Award, but being the ultimate master of my own fate is a burden that’s simply too big and too impossible for any person to carry alone. Truth is, no matter how tightfisted we are about our own mortality, no matter how many prunes we eat and helmets we wear, life is gonna get us.
If I didn’t have a sustaining, pulsating grain of faith inside telling me that the span of my life was already set before I was born, that everything random is actually ordered by God (this is the only thing that makes sense to me), then personally I’d be a basket case.
Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Not being the one in charge – the one with all the answers is freeing because all I really need to know is that when a tree is meant to fall, that tree will fall.