When tragedy strikes, communities respond

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH
Even a peaceful scene in Amish country can become tragic.

Tragedy. It’s bound to invade our lives, often when we least expect it. Too often, it happens more than once in our lifespan.

Unfortunately, we likely have all seen our fair share of tragedy. Calamity merely is part of life. That doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

I’ve seen and experienced a lot of tragic incidents in my life as a member of volunteer fire and rescue squads. Often I knew people involved in the emergency incidents. That’s not surprising when you live most of your life in a close-knit, rural community.

Sometimes tragic national news hits close to home, too. The recent fatal shooting of Dean Beachy and his son Steve is proof of that. Naturally, people were shocked and horrified at the senseless killings.

Their lives are a huge loss to the family and the many, many people they touched. My wife knew the family well, having taught Steve’s three older brothers.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH
An hour after a tornado damaged this farm building, neighbors came to repair its roof.

Most likely, we each could create a long list of personal tragedies that have significantly impacted our lives. Mine would have to start even before I was born.

My great grandfather was killed in an auto accident involving a drunk driver. The crash critically injured my father and his only brother a block from their home. My uncle’s traumatic head injuries caused lifelong, family-wide ramifications.

My mother’s father was electrocuted six months before I was born. I am sure you have a comparable list of interpersonal human misfortune.

We learn life lessons from tragedies. One is when disaster strikes, people respond. That’s the way community works. What affects one family affects us all to varying degrees.

My wife and I experienced and witnessed positive responses many times over our four decades of living in Holmes County, Ohio. When bad things happen to good people, others want to help. So they do. They bring food, share tears, hugs, and sit quietly with the victims’ family.

Some tragedies happen suddenly, like the Beachy shootings, a traffic crash or a house fire. Others happen gradually and last over an extended time. Likely, we have all known someone diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In either situation, shock, denial, anger, fear, and blame all surface in the face of loss. Often those emotions occur at different times for different family members. Heartache knows no boundaries. To be there is what really matters to the hurting individuals.

Ohio's Amish country, Holmes Co. OH
Barn fire.

As an EMT, I once responded to a drowning call at an Amish farm. The toddler was dead by the time we arrived in the country setting. Still, all the first responders wanted to do something. We comforted the grieving family as best we could.

With the corner’s approval, I carried the youngster’s body to the ambulance where family, friends, and neighbors filed through saying their goodbyes. It was the Amish way, and the officials in charge wanted to respect that.

Regardless of the type of tragedy, whether sudden or lengthy, no one is immune. As human beings, we can choose to offer whatever we can or to ignore the situation.

Those who chose the former realize that in giving there is receiving. In caring, appreciation is returned. In listening, genuine sharing occurs. With your presence, acceptance and understanding slowly unfold.

Human beings have a responsibility to one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be available, to help, to be respectful. There is no better time to express those gifts than when tragedy strikes.

It’s not merely the way a community responds. It is the way a caring community thrives.

Ohio's Amish county, Holmes Co. OH
This Amish barn raising occurred less than a month after the farmer’s barn burned.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

I don’t know how she does it

By Bruce Stambaugh

August is rapidly coming to a close. For our family, that means that Neva is in her comfort zone doing what she does best.

Neva loves to help others. It’s in her DNA. In the fall, our daughter’s busy family becomes the center of our attention. In part, that is why we moved to the Shenandoah Valley.

Carrie is the women’s volleyball coach at Eastern Mennonite University. Her personal and professional schedules are head-spinners. Practices and meeting with players consume Carrie’s time. Once the regular season starts soon, it gets to be grueling.

canning
Neva spends much of her time in the kitchen preparing meals, frozen sweet corn, and applesauce for others.
Of course, our daughter has a family to care for as well. That’s difficult to do, even with a helpful and talented husband. That’s where we come in, especially my wife.

Before our move from Ohio’s Amish country to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Harrisonburg became our temporary home in the fall. Neva lived there August into November. I shuttled back and forth during those months as work duties called.

Now that we are retired and live just five miles away, we can quickly assist our daughter and her family. When it comes to Neva, “assist” is an understatement.

My energetic wife puts all she has into helping our daughter’s home run as smoothly as possible. It’s a must do situation with three active grandchildren and both of their parents working full-time.

creativity,
Neva added a repurposed screen door to a flowerbed.
With Neva taking the lead, my wife and I gladly step in to do what we can. Me? I do whatever I’m asked or told to do. If you are a betting person, wager on the latter.

Of course, the grandkids and our son-in-law all do their part. We fill in the gaps when work and school schedules preclude household chores being completed.

When it comes to domestic skills, I can’t hold a candle to Neva though. She plans and prepares family meals. I set the table and clean up. Occasionally, Neva prepares food for the entire volleyball team. I’m the gopher. I go for this and go for that.

While Neva is cooking or cleaning or shopping, I might be running the oldest grandchild to the gym for workouts or picking up the middle grandkid from after-school activities or accompanying the youngest to her soccer practice.

See what I mean? All that coming and going keeps us active, energized, and helps us sleep well at night.

In addition to all of this activity, our son has taken a new job in a different state seven hours away from us. With Neva leading the way, we helped him ready for this significant transition in his life, too. We were glad to do what we could.

Why does Neva do all of this? It’s all she knows how to do. It’s how she loves. Her compassion manifests into tasty, nutritious meals, quality time spent sharing her gifts and wisdom with the grandkids, and a sense of security for our son, daughter, and son-in-law.

enjoying an evening
Every now and then, Neva takes a break.
I marvel at Neva’s determination, fortitude, skills, and drive to aid others. It’s definitely that time of year again, and we all reap the benefits of Neva’s generous gift of hospitality.

Our fall schedules are hectic to be sure. Neva and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

To paraphrase the late Arthur Ashe, we do what we can with what we have right where we are. At our age, at any age really, that’s all that can be expected. In Neva’s case, she exceeds any and all expectations.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Be the good in life

Florida sunrise, rays of hope
Morning rays of hope.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Our lives are filled with bad news almost daily. Much of it is minor, insignificant. Too much, however, is horrific. News of flooding, earthquake, or another school shooting dominates the feeds on our electronic devices all too often.

Every now and then, however, a piece of good news manages to appear. It’s not always in the headlines of newspapers or featured on the trending social media of the day. Good news occurs nonetheless.

I believe that humans are still good by nature. A few prove me wrong, sometimes in a big way. However, adverse events can generate the best in people, often times spontaneously.

When two New York State Police officers working curbside at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport noticed a young woman sobbing after exiting her ride, they asked if she needed help. That’s when the good news story began to unfold.

Jordana Judson headed to the airport when she heard that a good family friend, Meadow Pollack, had been one of the 17 victims at the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Judson had graduated from that same school.

nature walk, mother and son
A mother hugs her son.
Judson wanted to fly home to attend a vigil for her friend. Only she was so distraught that she could hardly talk when the two officers, Thomas Karasinski and Robert Troy, approached her. Together they directed Judson to the proper counter to purchase her airline ticket.

When Judson was told that the one-way ticket would cost $700, she broke down again, exclaiming that she didn’t have that much money. Still crying, she tried to call her mother. In the process, Karasinski and Troy, who had never worked together before, each reached for their credit cards.

Judson tried to wave them off from making the purchase but was too late. The officers handed her the ticket. Judson said she didn’t know what to say about the officers’ exceptional kindness, but gave them each a hug before boarding her plane. Their instinctive act of kindness enabled Judson to attend the service for her deceased friend.

A spark of hope amid all the despair flickered when I read this marvelous story of compassion by the two police officers towards the distraught Judson. The story was so much more than the purchase of a plane ticket. The officers modeled what it means to be the good in life.

We should follow their lead, and we need not wait for a major tragedy to show kindness. Plenty of opportunities to be the good await us every day. We just need to be alert and respond when they present themselves.

Volunteer at a food pantry. Give your neighbor some flowers. Bake cookies for a friend. Buy coffee for a stranger in line behind you. Hug your spouse, your children. Be kind to yourself.

I was in the midst of writing this when a photographer friend in Florida shared with much excitement how her new day had begun. An anonymous person left a note of appreciation on her car door. Every morning Lea makes a point of photographing the ocean and seashore at sunrise, even if it is cloudy. She posts the results on social media for all her friends to see. Lea was effusive about the unexpected note. She concluded, “The greatest joy is giving joy to others.”

Lea is right. If we want to ensure that virtue occurs in the world, the awareness and compassion have to begin with each one of us.

sunrise, shorebirds, photographer
My friend Lea in action.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Happy Thanksgiving!

driftwood tree, Little Talbot Island State Park FL
Standing strong.

A straggly driftwood tree on a lonely beach might seem like a strange symbol with which to say “Happy Thanksgiving.” From my perspective, it’s just right. The stalwart tree, battered by wind and sea, still stands. To me, it serves as a reminder of all those in the world today who have so little, who daily strive to just find food, water, and shelter. Likely, we don’t have to really look too far to find folks who lack at least one of those most precious life necessities.

It struck me that the tree dramatically overshadows the person walking the beach looking for seashells and sharks teeth. Of course, this is due to distance. That perspective, however, serves to highlight just how small we are in relationship to all of the world’s human problems.

My point on this Thanksgiving Day in the United States is for all of us to be extra thankful for all that we have. It’s too easy to take for granted the gathering of friends and family around a bountiful table of your favorite Thanksgiving offerings. As we partake in the meal, let us remember in prayer and in decisive action those who have so little.

“Standing Strong” is my Photo of the Week.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle
Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia
What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Be kind to yourself

Shenandoah National Park, mountain view
Be kind to yourself. Enjoy each view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I can be my own worst enemy. I have a feeling I’m not alone in that admission.

I hate to be wrong. Even if I make the simplest mistake, I can be extra hard on myself. I know I shouldn’t be, but I am.

I went birding, and the bird I had heard but not seen suddenly popped out of the brush and began preening in the warm morning sun. It was the perfect opportunity for the photo I had been seeking. Only in stalking the bird, the dangling straps of my camera and my binoculars became intertwined. By the time I untangled them, the bird had disappeared.

eastern phoebe
Eastern Phoebe.
I drove into town to buy three items, but I left the short grocery list on the counter at home thinking I could easily remember what to get. I relied on my sharp memory and growling stomach and purchased 10 items. When I returned home, I discovered I forgot to buy milk, the most important item on the list.

Another time I pulled into a fast food restaurant’s drive-through, placed my order, drove to the pickup window, paid for my food, and drove away with a satisfied smile on my face. Halfway home I realized I hadn’t waited for the server to hand me my food.

Before visiting my trio of grandchildren in Virginia last fall, I thought I would surprise them for Halloween. I bought three perfectly plump pumpkins that would make great Jack-O-Lanterns. I set the bright orange pumpkins on the counter in the garage while I finished packing my vehicle for the trip.

When I arrived at their house on a beautiful sunny afternoon, my heart sank. I couldn’t find the pumpkins anyplace until I returned home several days later. The pumpkins all sat in a row on the counter where I had put them.

Civil War reenactment, living history
Playing the part.
I could go on, but I think you get my point. We sometimes do strange things. Depending on your makeup, some folks just shrug off such silliness, while others can’t forgive themselves for being so inept. I leaned to the latter for most of my life.

I’ll confess that I have spent much too much effort in my lifetime mentally beating myself up over such foolishness. I mumble to myself about my stupidity. I call myself names I wouldn’t dare say out loud.

As I have gotten older, I’ve noticed the goofy mistakes have increased exponentially. I attribute that to the aging process. Several of my peers have verified my suspicions, but not necessarily in the way you might expect.

The other seniors have related similar lapses. They, too, show disgust at their ineptness of leaving luggage by the door, losing cell phones, wondering where their glasses are when they are on their head.

I felt great relief in hearing them tell their sadly funny stories and enjoying their hearty laughter at their own forgetfulness. I took my cue from their more appropriate responses.

I realized self-chastisement was a waste of time. Negative self-talk wasn’t helping the situation. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just human nature. I feel much better laughing off my self-induced comedy of errors.

If you’ve been forgetful lately, just know that you are not alone. So be kind to yourself when you do err. Let it go. Laugh a little. Have fun with the miscue, with those you’re with, and with life.

Be kind to yourself. By the way, has anyone seen my car keys?

sunrise, Lakeside OH, Lake Erie
A good way to be kind to yourself.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Giving a gift that really matters

country road
Rural road.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m about to tell you the best possible Christmas story I could imagine. None of the usual animated characters play a part. No Grinch or Santa, no reindeer or elves, no extravagance or selfishness are involved.

The main characters are two ordinary, observant, wise, and caring women. I think that’s what makes this narrative so meaningful and beautiful. As soon as my wife told me this true story, I knew I had to share it with you. It’s that good. I hope you agree.

I don’t personally know nor have I met the women in this story. Maybe you have. I’m not even aware of their names. We’ll call them Alice and Betty.

Alice and Betty had never met before until recently. They had, however, seen each other daily on their way to work.

Alice lives in the Wooster, Ohio area and works in Millersburg, 16 miles to the south. Betty resides in Millersburg and works near Wooster. These two women travel the same county road to and from their jobs and apparently work similar hours.

Each day Alice and Betty passed one another driving in the opposite directions on their way to work. As they did so, they both began to notice the other. Alice and Betty likely passed near the same location since they kept comparable time schedules.

Amish children, Amish cart
Along the way.
Soon they began to wave to each other as they passed. It became something to look forward to on the routine drive to work.

Their waving became more and more vigorous as time went on. The women looked for one another, partly as a source of reassurance like a sailor seeks a lighthouse. Their mutual waves became bright beacons of familiarity.

One recent morning, Betty noticed that Alice had pulled off the road. Thinking she might need assistance, Betty turned around.

Alice was shocked when her waving buddy pulled in. That’s when the story gets surreal.

Alice couldn’t believe what had just happened. She told Betty it had to be a miracle, and then handed Betty a coffee mug filled with chocolates.

Alice had only stopped to flag down her unknown friend to give her the gift. In the process, she didn’t see that Betty had already gone by. Alice explained to Betty that she struggled at times with enjoying her job.

Amish farmstead
Amish farmstead.
Alice said Betty’s welcomed wave instilled a positive start to each day. Imagine that. Something as simple and easy as a friendly wave made her day, and gave her strength to see the day through even though Alice knew it might be tough.

Betty was stunned. She had no idea her energetic wave had such an affirming influence on this stranger, who in reality was no longer a stranger.

The two women exchanged names and numbers. I have a hunch they’ll be staying in touch with one another more than their friendly waves.

It’s hard to comprehend that such an uncomplicated gesture as a wave from a person you had never met could make such a significant impact on your life. But it did for Alice.

Wonderment and risk-taking flavor this Christmas story. Both women made themselves vulnerable for the benefit of the other.

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that the purpose of Christmas? Those who believe in the Christmas story are charged with creating joy, not just for self, or for those we know and love, but for all.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas
Advent candles.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016