50 Yards – The Distance Between Life & Death

For the past two weeks, the news cycles have been dominated by the stories of the hurricanes.  Harvey and Irma have certainly left enough destruction in their wakes to alter life in the affected areas for decades to come.  There have been stories of great heroics and stories of great tragedy.  There have been images of rescues and images of destruction.  The contrasts in the story lines have been jarring… hope & despair, loving & looting, preparedness & surprize, relief & tension.  By the time both storms blew their way through middle Tennessee, they were only a fraction of the “sound and fury” that once hammered Texas and Florida.  And yet, all of us have been affected by the storms, if nothing else than by the images on the screen and the words of the reporters.

There is one story that I can’t seem to shake.  It’s the story of that nursing home down in Hollywood, Florida where 8 residents died because of the extreme heat.  You’ve heard the story and captured most of the details.  When the power grid went down, the nursing home lost important life-sustaining systems.  The air-conditioning failed along with the elevators from the second floor and so many residents were trapped in the extreme heat.  By the time the cries for help were heard, several had lost their lives.  Some of those who were transported to the nearest hospital had body temperatures above 105 degrees.  Gratefully, most of the residents survived the ordeal, but for 8 senior adults, it was a horrible end-of-life experience.

Here’s the one detail about that story that haunts me.  The closest hospital… the one that took in the most critically ill… the one that had the means to save lives… was only 50 yards away from the front door of the nursing home facility.  50 yards.  The hospital and nursing home share a parking lot.  There are so many unanswered questions and many are pointing blame in various directions.  City officials and the court systems will have to sort through all of that.  I am certainly not in any position to point blame or offer explanations.  I don’t know who, ultimately, was at fault, but I do know it’s a tragedy and many families are grieving.  It seems to me that the distance between life and death was only 50 yards.

Maybe the distance between those who die a little each day, and those with the ability to give life is just 50 yards, or maybe it’s 50 feet, or maybe it’s 50 bucks, or maybe it’s 50 minutes.  Let me explain.  All of us live in communities, neighborhoods, and cul-de-sacs.  And sure, we can never know all that takes place within the walls of someone’s home and within the relationships between those who live there, but you can bet the mortgage that there are people who live 50 yards away from you who are hurting, grieving, despairing, and maybe even dying a little on the inside.  What would it take for you to save that life?  It’s called practicing the art of neighboring and maybe you need to step down the street, start a conversation, and restore someone to life again with your words of friendship, grace, and understanding.

Or maybe the distance is just 50 feet.  Consider your co-workers for a moment.  Or the classmate.  Or the commuter who rides the same train you do.  Someone within that distance is feeling the intense heat of a broken relationship, or a failed marriage, or a financial hardship, or a life-robbing despair.  If you are willing to travel just 50 steps and become the authentic embodiment of the person of Jesus Christ, you can revive a life that is on life-support.  Or maybe the ability to sustain life is found in your wallet or purse.  Maybe someone needs a meal, a pair of shoes, or just a small amount to get them to the next payday.  There are more people living on the financial edge that you and I can possibly imagine.  Why are you blessed, if not to offer help to those in need?  Remember the stories of those Romanian orphans who had trouble sleeping even after they had been rescued from their terrible plight?  When health workers gave the children a piece of bread to hold while they drifted off to sleep, they discovered the children slept better with the tangible hope that there would be food in the morning, because they held it in their hands.  I’m not saying that $50 will solve anyone’s financial hardship, but it might be enough to get them through another day and may help to put a little food on the table of a struggling family.

Maybe what you need to offer is 50 minutes of your time.  A lot of life-sustaining ministry can occur by simply listening to someone’s plight.  A conversation gives hope, gives relationship, and maybe even gives wisdom.  Someone you know needs you to listen… today.  It might be your spouse, your child, or a neighbor.

It’s crazy, right?  Those who had the ability to save the lives of those nursing home folks were only 50 yards away.  How far do you need to travel today to save a life?

-Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Executive Director