“We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some have yachts. Some have canoes and some are drowning.”
Now and again I see a quote that captures my thoughts and this is definitely one of them. Life is a journey, a grand adventure if you will. There are times when everything seems wonderful and others that are filled with sorrow and even terror. From day to day, moment to moment we never quite know what challenges will come our way, nor how we will be left to face them. Even with our most cautious planning for tragedies, we may find ourselves thrashing in violent waves determined to make us drown. Depending on where we were born and who were our parents we will have vastly different resources to keep us afloat. Presuming that we actually know how someone is feeling in the face of difficulties is one of the most thoughtless things that we might do.
I vividly remember hurricane Harvey pounding my little cul de sac relentlessly. The rain never ceased for days, not even for a moment. My husband was recovering from a mild stroke and doctors had told us that the probability of another stroke event was highest in the first weeks after the initial event. I was terrified that he might need quick medical care in a time when it would be difficult, if not impossible to transport him to an emergency room. I don’t think that I slept for more than an hour or two until the storm had finally moved away from our area.
I was glued to my laptop during those awful times, hoping to garner some news and clinging to long distance support from friends and even strangers on social media. I hid my own fears because friends and family members were reporting their own frightening stories of water filling their homes and last minute escapes from the rising tides in chest high rivers that suddenly roared through their neighborhoods. I was terrified and concerned for them and knew that, at least for the moment, my own troubles were minimal compared to theirs.
I noticed a number of people reassuring each other with comments about how God had spared them the worst of the storm. They praised Him for keeping safe watch over them. I understood their feelings because they were parallel with my own, but then I saw a post from someone describing how cruel it felt to have their friends celebrating God’s goodness while they were refugees from their water logged homes. They begged the people they knew to be more careful in how they worded their good fortune lest it sound as though only the chosen few favorites of God were entitled to His protection. I realized that I too had been guilty of such words without realizing how much worse they made the fates of the unlucky souls whose lives had been upended so brutally. I saw that we were all in the same storm, but our boats, or lack of them, were quite different. Instead I began to privately be thankful for my good luck.
Since that time I have seen the metaphor of surviving a raging storm many times over. I see the cruelty in assuming that I understand how someone is feeling in the midst of tragedy. I know that my friend whose son was murdered does not feel better upon hearing my own views of how he should move past his great loss. The unexpected journey that he is enduring is incomprehensible to most of us. All we can do is love him and allow him to react in the ways that work for him without bombarding him with platitudes. It’s difficult to walk in his shoes. We only are able to imagine how such a tragedy might impact us, but we will never really know what kind of boat will carry him or us to still waters and safety once again.
I’ve had some trials lately. When I begin to linger in a pity party for my situation I often think of worse places that I might be. I’m not in a town being ravaged by war. My life has not collapsed in an earthquake. I am not a wandering refugee hoping to find compassion and safety in a strange land. I am simply experiencing a squall and I have a sturdy boat to keep me safe for now. It’s just a matter of time until the sun shines again and even if the changes wrought by the dreary weather are not to my liking, I feel certain that I will be able to adjust to them. I only have to reach out to family and friends and all will be fine.
Some people in the world are right now enduring unspeakable horrors. The only difference between their situations and mine is the luck of birth. Through no effort of my own, I came to be in a free and wealthy country. I was the child of loving and bright parents. Even with the ups and downs of losing my father at a young age, I was surrounded by family and friends who never failed to pull me from moments of near drowning. I did nothing to deserve such good fortune. By the luck of the draw I came to be in a safe and loving place.
We all have the same needs the world over, but some people are challenged with uncertainty for all of their lives. They don’t even have a boat when the storms come their way. They have to know how to swim or they will drown. They hope that along the way they will encounter enough kindness to keep them from sinking into the abyss.
I try to remember to be that person who reaches out from my own boat to help those who did not have the same good fortune that I have. I do my best to be kind and understanding. I no longer assume that I am somehow more deserving of my place in the world than anyone else. Even on the worst of days I have a steady boat, but I know that even an ocean liner can sink given the right circumstances. I try to remember this and be grateful for what I have and then share more with those reaching up from the water.