A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


As 2004 trudged wearily toward its ultimate end, there was one more disaster to consider, one more tragic loss of life and property.

A powerful earthquake and the subsequent tsunamis claimed thousands and thousands of lives across 10 African and Asian nations, obliterating homes, businesses and towns.  In one violent burst of water and energy, lives were forever changed by unpredictable and unchangeable events.  Today the world again mourns the loss of so many so quickly, grieving with families and communities torn asunder by forces completely beyond their control.

And the world wonders – what next?

If nothing else, 2004 was the year of dangerous living.  It was a year filled with war, natural disaster, political upheaval, violent crime and abuse.  But it was also a year filled with kindness, compassion, heroism and love.  The world is kind of funny that way.  Just when you’re ready to give up on the whole human experiment, along comes a person or group of people who prove that we just might be worth saving.

For example, wire services reported that during the tsunami effect in Sri Lanka, local citizens opened their homes and hearts to hotel guests who lost everything in the waves.

“They gave us the shirts they were wearing. They gave us their slippers,” said Jorg Dietrichs, one of four German backpackers who were taken in by a Sri Lankan family – without hesitation, reservation or financial consideration – in the hours after their beachside cabanas were washed away.  “They are the most beautiful people in the world.”

Similar goodness can be found in almost every 2004 tragedy.  Steven, an acquaintance of mine who returned earlier this year after serving his tour of duty in Iraq, experienced all of the horrors of war, including the death of one of his closest friends.  But he also experienced an outpouring of sincere affection and appreciation during a school service organized to pay tribute to the soldiers from every nation who had come as liberators, not conquerors.

“In the middle of the service, while a group of students was performing, a little girl about 4 or 5 years old wandered up to the front of the room and stood next to one of the officers,” Steven told me.  “He smiled at her, and she just jumped up into his lap and just stayed there for the rest of the service.”

Steven smiled at the memory.  Then he got a little misty-eyed as he continued: “At one point I looked at them and she was sitting there so comfortably, leaning her head against his chest, and he had his arms wrapped securely around her.  And I remember thinking right then, at that moment, it’s worth it.  All of it.  It’s worth it.”

Tragedy struck close to home for me when a young Boy Scout disappeared during a camping expedition in the nearby mountains.  Immediately, thousands of volunteers mobilized to search every inch of the rough terrain.  My neighbor David was among the most diligent of those volunteers.  I don’t know how many times David went up and down that mountain.  Probably David isn’t sure either.  He organized search parties from our neighborhood, took water and fruit to the searchers and with countless others prayed – constantly – for the safe return of the boy.

Sadly, tragically, that prayer still hasn’t been answered months later.  But the boy’s family has found peace in their faith in God and in the valiant efforts of thousands of people like David, who reached out to them and their son during a time of agonizing crisis.

“Years from now when I look back on this, I’m sure that’s what I’ll remember,” the boy’s father told a reporter recently.  “People are good.  When you need them, they’re there.”

Even during a year of dangerous living.

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— © Joseph Walker

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