Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Twenty-six years ago, my grandpa was in an airplane crash. Of the 16 passengers and three crew members, 9 people died. Fourteen more people were seriously injured, including eight who had been on the ground.

We learned of the news while on a family vacation in Florida. We were finishing up our morning routine, getting ready to leave for a theme park or the beach or some other vacation outing.

And then the phone rang.

After what seemed to be hours, my mom finally hung up the phone. Immediately, she burst into tears and crumpled into my dad’s chest. He enveloped her with his arms the way that only a person who fills the combined role of friend-lover-partner can do. I stared at them, standing there, clinging to each other while my mom sobbed. I watched them with equal parts awe and confusion, suddenly struck with the realization that they were more than parents ; they were individuals with their own fears and sorrows.

My grandfather had survived the plane crash; he was one of the lucky ones. I don’t know why his life was spared and the life of the man sitting near him was taken that afternoon, just like I don’t know why he was unfortunate enough to be in the plane crash in the first place. What I do know is that for whatever reason – by the grace of God, divine good luck, or cosmic serendipity – my grandpa was given an extra twenty-four years of life after that fateful day, years that he chose to spend living and loving, facing his fears with a smile on his face.

Yesterday, upon hearing the news about the horrific events that took place in Boston, my first instinct was to curl up in a ball, resolving to never leave my safe little cocoon, lest I endanger myself or my loved ones. And my heart broke for all the people who had been going about their day – going to work, doing laundry, taking the dog for a walk, or maybe even relaxing in a hotel room while on vacation – until their world was shattered with the news that a loved one had been involved in a disaster of epic proportions.

And then I thought of my grandpa. I thought of the way he battled through his fears – fear of flying, of loving, of losing, of dying – in a way that allowed him to truly live and love. He spent his extra years living fully in spite of the risk of dying (or maybe because of the risk of dying), instead of spending his life dying by not really living.

I thought of my grandma and my mom and my aunt and my uncle, who had been on vacation or doing housework or driving home from work when their world was shattered with “the news.” In an instant, they were confronted with the very real risk of devastation and death and loss, but continued to open their hearts to the risks involved with living and loving.

All around us, there is incomprehensible devastation and we just want to scream “WHY? WHY? WHY?” There is a natural tendency to respond with anger. Some people question humanity, shouting “What is wrong with people?!?!” Others demand justice for the tragedies, calling for retribution and retaliation.

But others – fewer, but still many – respond with courage and bravery and empathy and forgiveness, knowing that only by acting with love and compassion and resiliency can we ever truly be saved from fear and win the fight, knowing that amidst the blood and horror and ugliness – not just in Boston, but in the world as a whole – there is a hidden beauty around and among us.

There is bravery, evidenced by those who run in to help when human instinct is to run out to save oneself. There is joy, shining through the faces of smiling children. There is passion, experienced in the embrace of ecstatic lovers. There is compassion, spilling forth from hearts all over who ache for the hurt and weary. There is resiliency, demonstrated by a 78-year-old man who, taken down by the blast, got up and walked the last 12 feet of the race to cross the finish line. There is rebirth, sprouting from the buds beginning to peek through the cold, sodden ground.

Yes, there is cruelty and death and chaos and confusion and devastation and ugliness and misery. There always has been, there always will be. And sometimes, because it is loud and brash and obnoxious, the ugliness is just so obvious.

But if you look closely, really closely, you can see that the beauty is bigger, so much bigger, so much stronger, so much greater than the ugliness ever could be.

Only by seeing the hidden beauty can we work to eradicate the ugliness. Only by facing our fears can we begin to feel safe. Only by loving fully and completely, with a whole and open heart, can we feel the gentle hand of Grace. Only by risking it all can we live a life in which we soar above the clouds and fly.


Special thanks to Angie McMonigal Photography for providing the photo above as part of our Photo Inspiration Challenge. You can see more of her work on her website or Facebook page.

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    • Christie

      That’s all we can do is try, right?

    • Christie

      Thanks, Steph. I think I need to re-read my own words given all of the recent developments.

  1. Katherine

    Beautifully written. This made my day. I’ve been feeling so downhearted and sad about the Boston catastrophe but your grandfather’s example is one we all need to take to heart.

  2. Your grandfather sounds like a miraculous soul. What a gift he gave you by learning to live and trust in big ways again after such a horrific life event. This is a beautiful piece, Christine. Exactly what I needed to read tonight. thank you.

    • Christie

      Thanks, Mary. He really was a loving soul.

    • Christie

      Thanks, Samantha. It really is horrifying. I think that human instinct is to feel anger, but love and kindness is really so much more powerful…and beautiful.

  3. I’m reading this 2 weeks after the event, but that doesn’t diminish the truth or power of your words. I had an uncle who was in a plane crash on Christmas Eve. He was stuck in freezing temperatures for hours. It changed him, as one would imagine. I was very young, but like you I remember watching my parents deal with the fear and anxiety of it.

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