I felt absolutely flattened by bad news today.
So many people I know are in horrendous pain.
Betrayal, addiction, depression, suffering children, terminal illness, violent death:
I’ve heard instances of all of these today.
When I picked up a fluff magazine to mentally escape for a moment, I read of more horrors. Throwing it down, I turned on the boob tube: the local breaking news was of a young single mother being doused with gasoline and set on fire. Burns over 60% of her body.
why oh why oh why
There are so many things on this planet which are simply unbearable. Impossible to be borne.
Life isn’t fair. Innocents suffer. The wicked seem to prosper. All our “strutting and fretting” ends in death. As Paul puts it, “The whole world groans as in travail until now...” Centuries of flawed mankind screaming through the painful process of metamorphosis. Against such a flood of pain, such a collective cry of anguish that crescendos to unearthly roar, what can be the response? How are we to address so much suffering? We can’t fix it all. We can’t fix anybody, especially ourselves.
Platitudes don’t help much. Sometimes words are not only inadequate, they are next to impossible.
The word “compassion” keeps resonating in my head. I wonder about the deeper meanings. I think com is “with.” “With feeling,” maybe? (Why didn’t I ever take Latin?) I am happily surprised to find it defined as “bearing with.” Of course. From the Latin, com: with and pati: to bear.
Compassion, then, is to come alongside someone who is trying to bear the unbearable...and to bear it with them. A load that threatens to crush and destroy becomes just light enough to carry, after all.
I don’t normally sleep during the day anymore, but this afternoon I was so drained...completely wiped out...there was no other option. The news of the violent and senseless murder of the son (Katherine’s age) of one of the most precious staff members here at Casa Colina had left me stunned and sickened: last emotional straw. After putting a certain fussy baby down for his nap, I finally just “took to bed” myself.
The nap was a drooler. I heard voices and tried to swim up to reality’s surface, but drifted back down into dreams until hearing a polite tap at the door. It was Jay telling me we had company. I stumbled into the family room, still more than half-asleep.
There, of all people, was Daniel.
“What in the world are you doing in Pomona, California?!?” I sputtered.
Daniel laughed his wonderful trademark laugh and smiled his wonderful trademark grin.
The world seemed okay again.
I’ve known Daniel for most of his life. I’ve known his family forever, and I’ve had the privilege of watching him grow up. He was one of my all-time favorite little rapscallions in Sunday School. He has matured into a remarkable young man. Actually, Daniel is like a force of nature...great gusty wind and sunshine.
All the members of Daniel’s family are amazingly talented and highly creative multi-taskers. You never know what they’ll do next. So it was no surprise to find him involved in an undertaking such as Darius Goes West.
DGW is a documentary film made by some college kids from my hometown. It started as a little dream fueled by a barbeque sale, and blossomed into a life-changing experience and multi-award-winning movie. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It will make your life richer. You will simultaneously laugh and cry, and be inspired to live and think differently.
Darius is an Athens boy who suffers from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, the most common fatal genetic disorder to affect children worldwide. Most kids who suffer from it die by the age of 20, as Darius’ brother Mario did. Before he died, Mario elicited a promise from his friend Logan: he asked him to watch out for his baby brother. Logan has kept his word, coming alongside Darius and helping him to bear the heavy load of increasingly heavy limbs and the wheelchair they necessitate. And bearing with him the burden of a young life evaporating much too quickly.
But, of course, it is the quality, not the quantity, of our days that matter in the end...the lushness of our lives, not the longevity. Darius had never been beyond the borders of our town. Logan enlisted 10 of his most big-hearted, life-affirming, adventure-loving friends to take Darius on the trip of a lifetime...or many lifetimes...and in doing so, to raise awareness and funds for Duchenne’s research. The documentary is the story of that riotous roadtrip. Our friend Daniel was the official Crazy Driver/Chief Comedian/Heavy Load-Lifter of the expedition.
So what in the world was Daniel doing calmly sitting on the sofa in Pomona? He explained that the Darius crew was on tour promoting the next phase of their endeavor, which is an initiative to sell a million DVD’s in a year. Every penny of the profits will go towards Duchenne research. The crew is once again traveling the country in an RV, but this time a donated van has accompanied them as well. So Daniel, head driver, was able to take off from Anaheim or wherever during rush hour(s) and somehow find his way to us in Pomona...not an easy feat even for a California native. (His high school nickname wasn’t “Braveheart” for nothing.)
Daniel said, “I told myself the one thing I was gonna do when I got near LA was to go find Katherine. So here I am.”
Daniel brought us love, hugs, humor, news, and a copy of the new DVD. He also brought Katherine a t-shirt that says “goslabi” on it. (See the movie if you’re curious.) And after Katherine and Jay had to leave for acupuncture, he stuck around for a while with James and me to see if he could lend a fresh ear.
I tried to get him back on the road before it got too late, plying him with food for the journey, and reminding him to make a last pit stop before battling the giant. He just laughed and reminded me where he’s driven in the past couple of years.
After he left, I thought about what could inspire a young man in his twenties to put his own life on hold for so long and devote it to the care of another. In our conversation, Daniel had reminded me of some of the nitty-gritty care-taking responsibilities he and his friends have taken on with Darius. Much of it is not pretty. I imagine most of it is tiring. Darius weighs a good bit more than any of the guys. Just moving him from point A to point B is strenuous. But the look in their eyes as they help him makes me hear “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” playing in the background.
One of the most beautiful scenes in the movie is when Darius sees an ocean for the first time. He wheels himself down to the end of the boardwalk, but there’s no way to get from there to the sparklingly inviting ocean. His friends innovate, working together to carry planks and whatever else they can find to make a pathway. They laboriously push the heavy wheelchair and its occupant down to the shore and into the crystal water. There they pull the confining chair away from Darius and hold him up in their arms to rock with the waves. He laughs the most unselfconsciously raucous, joyful laughter I’ve ever heard; and, liberated from the weight of his encumbered body, he floats...secure in the arms of his loving friends.
Unbearable sadness is all around us. For any of us, tragedy is just one phone call away. It is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. It is equally easy to become callused and self-focused. For some reason, a young man named Logan Smalley made the decision to help another young man bear the unbearably heavy burden of a fatal illness. Just one person deciding to help just one other person.
The ripple effect from that decision grows bigger by the day. I pray that by this time next year a million more will have been touched by its waves.
Daniel’s timely visit reminded me (again) that I don’t have to bear the weight of the world alone. No one can.
As God’s dearly-loved children, we are all members of the same family...soldiers fighting in the same war...pilgrims scratching and scrambling our way up the same rocky path. A burden that seems impossibly heavy for one may be light for another. Your leaden cross might seem light to me; mine to you.
We can help each other shoulder the load. One on one, for a start. And carry each other when we’re incapable of continuing to walk on...
...remembering that the arms of our prayers are even longer and stronger than the ones hanging at our sides.
Thank you all for helping us to bear the unbearable.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ...” (Gal. 6:2 nkjv)
*Darius Goes West has won over 30 film awards. It has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, two segments on ABC’s Nightline, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Dennis Miller Show, and on multiple regional news shows. It has been applauded in Forbes, Variety, and the Los Angeles Times, among many other publications. Please click on the link below for more details:
Check out the Today Show video (under “Press”) for part of the ocean scene. It will make your day.