I haven’t been able to get a recent tragedy out of my mind.
I thought perhaps it was because it happened in the state where I grew up.
I thought perhaps it was because I am an avid concert-goer myself, and a freak accident such as this could have very well happened to me or to one of my friends.
Then I realized it wasn’t the circumstance of the accident, nor the location that consumed my thoughts and weighed heavily on my heart. It was what happened in the minutes directly after tragedy struck.
On August 13th, as fans awaited a concert at the Indiana State Fair, strong winds from an approaching storm caused the stage rigging for the outdoor concert to collapse, abruptly ending five precious lives and injuring forty-five more.
As many terrified spectators understandably ran away from the danger and chaos, approximately 100 people ran toward it.
With bare hands, men and women lifted steel beams and heavy scaffolding from the injured and frightened survivors.
Other heroic bystanders sat and comforted those who were bleeding or had injured loved ones until medical assistance arrived.
When I think about the courageous souls who ran to assist, I find myself in awe of their split-second decision to go forward, rather than to turn away.
If only one or two people had decided go forth and help, the beams could have never been lifted. But because a group of individuals each did what they could do, their collective actions created one dramatic, life-saving impact.
A week after the State Fair tragedy, one of my blog readers sent me a link to a website. She thanked me for continually inspiring her and wanted to share a website that she thought would inspire me, in return.
My first thought upon viewing this website was this: The steel beams from that tragic night are still being lifted.
A beautiful mother and wife named Andrea was among the many spectators who were critically injured at the state fair that night.
Andrea’s skull was crushed by the collapse of the enormous metal structure. She suffered a traumatic brain injury that nearly took her life.
You can read about Andrea’s injuries and progress in a touching post written by her brother here.
While Andrea remains hospitalized, local businesses, community members, even small children and pets are doing what they can to support Andrea and her family financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
Here are a few examples …
A local day spa is offering $15 pink hair extensions …
A local bakery is selling pink “A” cookies …
The local roller skating rink recently hosted a benefit skate …
And there are bake sales, t-shirts, bracelets, window decals … with proceeds all benefitting “For The Love of Andrea.”
When you see each of these respective acts as one meaningful collection, the impact is indescribable. Go to www.fortheloveofandrea.com to witness this beautiful inspiration for yourself.
The day after I viewed Andrea’s website, I was confronted with the choice to either run toward or turn away from a family who was enduring great heartache and sadness.
Through the Caringbridge website, I learned that just ten houses down from me was a loving daughter trying to make the last few days of her mother’s life as peaceful and as painless as possible.
I stood at my computer that morning and literally ached as I read her words, thinking selfishly of my own mother and how excruciating such circumstances would be.
My hands hovered over my keyboard in the “Sign My Guestbook” section of the website, yet I was unable to move my fingers.
For a person whose passion and purpose is to create beautiful sentiments from the written word, I was at a loss.
What could I possibly say to this hurting family?
It would have been easy to run away, simply close my laptop and become distracted by a million insignificant things, but I yearned to run forward.
I thought of the small town bakery with their hot pink cupcakes; I thought of the high school boys who had painted their nails pink and the local St. Bernard dogs that proudly donned hot pink bows … all for the love of Andrea.
Then I thought of many individual hands grasping a heavy metal beam and lifting simultaneously at the count of three to free the trapped lives underneath.
I looked at my hands. What can I do?
I am a baker. I have been a baker since the day my four-year-old self could stop eating the butter long enough to toss it into the mixing bowl with a little flour and sugar. Baking is what I do well.
And when I looked on the counter, I saw four very ripe brown bananas ready to become succulent bread.
I summoned my five-year-old daughter (otherwise known as my ever-willing baking assistant and taste tester). I explained what was going on ten houses down. I had taught her about protecting herself against skin cancer, but today the brutal reality of melanoma was crystal clear.
I looked into her worried eyes and explained that it was our job to make the best tasting bread we had ever made.
I held her hands in mine and said, “This is what our hands are meant to do for this family in pain.”
My daughter convinced me that since it was going to be our best bread ever, we needed to make a mini loaf to sample (smart girl). So before we prepared the larger loaves for delivery to our neighbor, we tasted the dense, warm bread and both agreed it was the best we had ever made. It was for someone very special, after all.
We wrapped the fragrant confections loosely in a brightly colored cloth because they still radiated heat from the oven.
As we carried our gift up the walk, my daughter stopped and suddenly seemed scared.
Understanding she was about to witness a heart-breaking moment in time, she asked, “What do I do, Mama?”
A friend of mine once said my daughter could solve the world energy crisis with her smile.
So I said, “You are going to do what YOU do so beautifully … SMILE. Smile that smile that makes your eyes all squinty and causes your mouth to reach the tips of your ears. Your smile is what our dear neighbor needs right now.”
I watched as my child practiced her best smile as we forged ahead on the walkway to my friend’s front door.
Run toward the pain, not away.
When my neighbor answered, I simply held out the bread and said, “I came to give you warm bread and a big hug.”
Lift the heavy beam.
There were few words, mostly a deposit of love and strength inside a hearty embrace.
My neighbor later posted an update on her mom’s Caringbridge site, noting the outpouring of support her family was receiving through food, cards, prayers, and by caring for her children’s afterschool needs.
I was again reminded how the individual actions of many, when compiled as one, can result in the substantial lifting of another person’s heavy burden.
That evening, my daughter and I sat on the front porch step watching a brewing storm off in the distance.
In the middle of the menacing sky a ray of sun peeked through, illuminating only the outline of the black cloud. It looked like a golden electric string suspended in mid-air.
For whatever reason, this sight triggered my daughter to think about our neighbor and her fragile mother who was slowly slipping away from her loved ones.
“It’s beautiful in heaven,” my daughter pointed to the ray of light that had suddenly cut a sizeable hole in the black cloud, revealing abundant sunshine and puffy white clouds on the other side.
Then without warning, my freckle-faced child bowed her head and said the loveliest prayer for a mother and daughter whose incredible bond would continue to exist, even beyond death.
Run toward the pain, not away. And once you are there, do what it is that you do best.
If we each lend a hand, then together as one, we just might begin to see a more beautiful world.
Today is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Let this be a day where you push aside daily distraction and abandon the thought that you can’t possibly make a difference. Instead of running away from someone in need, run toward.
Think of a neighbor, co-worker, friend, or family member who is going through a difficult time. Now do what it is that YOU do to bring comfort to someone in need.
- Make a phone call and just listen
- Offer to run to the store
- Make cookies
- Grab take-out and tell them not to worry about dinner tonight
- Mow their yard or rake their leaves
- Write a note of encouragement
- Pick some flowers
- Say a prayer
- Simply ask: How can I help?
Together we can make 9/11 a day of light and hope by collectively running toward someone who needs a reprieve from the heaviness of life.
Christi McGuire says
Today, my emotions are raw, not only because of the memory of 9/11, but because of the shocking news of friend and fellow writer’s sudden death. Life is so short…thanks for the reminder to make our time on earth more beautiful by doing what we can. Your words are always so healing and encouraging!
Deb @ Home life simplified says
I have tears streaming down my face – what a beautiful lesson to share. I know in my heart I would have run from the beams in fear, but as I read your whole post I thought again and realised I could choose to run towards it too.
This has been an emotional weekend remembering 9/11 (I had a cousin and Uncle both get out of the towers alive – my Uncle is the man pulling beams by the thousands!) and I avoided much of the internet until this morning. Thanks for your amazing post!
I cried reading this post. I tell you. The world is getting smaller. It’s the decision of running to help. What a great thing. Just you taking the time out to share this story makes our world a better place. But what I LOVED about reading this was you and your daughter baking.
Of course that’s what you do! I don’t mean it’s the baking that makes the difference. I mean it’s positively contributing to making our world a better place, through gestures. Thank you.
Barb Black says
Yes. Yes, yes, YES!!!
[…] Rachel Macy Stafford’s HandsFreeMama blog, in a post entitled “Do What You Can Do,” she writes about a recent tragedy in Indiana when strong winds collapsed a stage rigging for an […]