On Wednesday the unthinkable happened to our community, a Tornado ripped through the middle of Town and changed people’s lives forever. As I sat in my office at the fire station I heard the voices of people and it sent a chill up my spine. The voices were those of people in complete horror of what they were seeing, I clearly remember one of the voices when asked what he needed on Worcester street. There was a long pause and the response was I don’t know it is completely devastated!
As I rushed to Southbridge from Dudley my thoughts turned to all of you. I needed to make sure that everyone was okay and accounted for. We have parishioners in Sturbridge and Brimfield and I was not sure where the Tornado had hit and we needed to make sure everyone was okay. I am happy to say that you all are.
I have been involved in disaster relief almost as long as I have been a priest. I have the ability to process what I am seeing and stay at a distance from it, but it is very different when it is your neighbors that have been affected. Standing on Worcester Street on Wednesday afternoon and looking at the damage brought it all home. People were climbing out windows of what used to be their homes and stuff was everywhere. (story of the woman who needed the drink) Then the sky started to darken again and the chilling words came over the radio again, Tornado on the ground! Not a good sound let me tell you!
As I heard back from each of you I was thankful that you were all okay. Rosemead Apartments was hit pretty badly and as some of you know that is where Bishop Nikon lives. I called him that night praying he was out of town, he was home, but was fine. His building was not hit but he watched the entire thing. Truly amazing. How can one house get destroyed and another suffers very little damage. It shows how unpredictable it can all be.
It is at these times that I remember how precious life is and how our little disagreements seem so petty in the face of a tragedy such as this. I am reminded that in an instant life can change and do I really want to be mad at another person for something that in the grand scheme of things really does not matter, what matters is family and friends and of course faith! These are the things that matter and these are the things that should be in the front of our minds as we struggle to make sense of what has happened.
Yesterday some of us spent the day in the hall collecting food and other supplies; you will see what was collected at the coffee hour after the liturgy. People came from all over to bring a can of this or a can of that. The outpouring of support has been amazing. Brimfield and Munson have been overwhelmed with supplies and they are now turning people away! I also spent a little time on Worcester Street yesterday and witnessed neighbor helping neighbor. I saw people who have lost everything offering water to the guys from National Grid. Truly amazing how just when you think you have lost all hope in humanity the best parts come through and we truly see what it means to be Community.
I have spent the last few days during all of this, thinking about what I am thankful for. I am thankful for each of you. The ones who come each week and those we only see occasionally. I am thankful for the ones who when we need something are always here. I am thankful for those who have come before us that through their blood sweat and tears and their enormous sacrifice have given us this place to worship in and that we are able to keep the lights on and be that beacon of hope to those out there in the world.
So where do we go from here? Soon, life will start to return to normal and we will pick up and move on. The rebuilding will start and people will pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and start to put them back together. Trees will be replanted and soon the external scars will disappear.
I am hopeful that we can retain some of this neighbor helping neighbor sense of community that we have right now, that is at the heart of the Gospel message of loving your neighbor. I know I sound like a broken record but that is the heart of the Gospel, loving your neighbor.
On Tuesday night we have been studying the letter of St. James. St James tells us that faith without works is a dead faith. Our faith, if it is genuine, requires us to put that faith into action and that action is to help our neighbors. If we are unwilling to do that, St. James would say, our faith is useless. St. Paul tells us that without love we are just a clanging cymbal or a banging gong, in other words we are just going through the motions. There is something that we all can do, if you cannot do anything physical then become a prayer warrior. Pray for the folks affected and the folks that are here to help. Pray for those of us who cook the meal twice a month and those who come here to partake. Prayer is a powerful weapon and is something we all can, and should be doing for each other.
Mahatma Gandhi said be the change you want to be. If you want to live in a world of peace then you need to find that peace within yourself and be at peace with yourself. If you want to live in a world of forgiveness then you need to find the strength within yourself to forgive yourself. If you want to live in a world of love, then you need to find it within yourself to love yourself.
As we stand and take stock of the loss, and let me tell you the loss is great, my thoughts turn to how thankful we are that we are still here. Yes, homes and memories were lost, but we are still here. We mourn the four who died, one who died trying to protect her child, and we should all be thankful that friend and family are still here.
The events of the past week have given me a chance to really think about what is important. Let us lay aside all of the past hurts and decide as a community that we are going to move forward from this point loving one another. We can do more together than we can apart.
As yourself this week, what are you thankful for? Promise yourself this week that you are going to do something for someone else. And promise me that you are all going to love yourselves just a little more.
And give someone a hug today it is the best medicine!