Across the country we slowly put down our lives to face Humboldt. Reports began filtering in Friday night. Something terrible had happened at the lonely intersection of Saskatchewan’s Highways 35 and 335. A truck heading west struck a bus heading north and 14 people were reported dead. Another 14 in the hospital. The boys, their coaches, media and team support people were members of the Humboldt Broncos Hockey team, on their way to a do-or-die playoff game in Neepawin. The truck driver survived.
A rural Canadian news conference was filmed. A cell phone stretched next to a microphone, an RCMP spokesperson with no more information to give, staunchly present to the community’s dawning horror.
Across the country we slowly put down our lives to face Humboldt. And Edmonton, and Slave Lake, and New Westminster, and Saskatoon, and Peace River, and Neepawin, and… As the names and the faces of the young men, their driver, coaches and play-by-play staff were broadcast we were drawn, inexorably, into grief. Sixteen dead, eleven still hospitalized, a young woman, their trainer, among the lost.
In a photo shared from a hospital ward, three young men, sporting playoff beards and hair dyed-blond, held hands in loss, solidarity, strength and shared pain. In them I see my own son, 17 years old, climbing on his team’s bus. Insisting on travelling with his friends. His life informed by theirs, his joys, his sorrows, his budding self wrapped in with them. The moment of the photo freezing youth’s solemnity becoming tragedy-informed adult.
I am a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. An itinerant Nazarene teacher/preacher/healer, he was informed, in some ways, by grief and loss and suffering. Travelling everywhere with companions along the Way, he knew the world and its passages very well. Standing in solidarity with those cast aside by his culture, he spent his days with those left weeping on the side of the road. He knew the pain of parents suffering the loss of their children and the sorrow of friends bereft on the deaths of their companions.
Many of the stories we hear about him involve healing. Some focus on cures. Some even have him raising the dead to life. Our stories tell us he was, himself, raised up from death, promising his friends that, wherever they were taken, in life or in death, he would be with them.
“In my father’s house,” he said, “there are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you.”
I cannot begin to imagine the pain, sorrow, suffering and despair filling the hearts of oh so many grandparents, fathers, mothers, partners, children, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. I know a little of it, in my own family’s loss and suffering, and in the quietly suppressed fears of parents sending sons and daughters off on a team trip to another small community down the highway. Only a little, and even that wells up the tears, spilling me over into woe.
I am a minister of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, an ancient and current ambassador of Love, sent directly from God (as are we all) to remind us that we are beloved. In the fullness of love no one of us ends. Wherever we drop in pain, in sorrow, in suffering and in deep, body-wracking grief, Love too abides.
“I go now to prepare a place for you, and when I return, I shall take you with me.”
Even in this, then, “Thanks be to God.”
For though we walk in the valley of death’s abiding shadow, Thou art with us.
We are not alone.
Keith Simmonds is in ministry at Duncan United Church, where folk are engaged in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with the Creator. He blogs at keithsimmonds.ca.
You van read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, April 14 2018