The whiff of smoke gets up your nose, doesn’t it?
That acrid smell of destruction has become familiar this summer to the point where it lurks right here in my home. I’ve carried it in on clothes unpegged from the clothesline and it’s been known to slink indoors as I kick off my shoes.
This smoke that lingers like the grief of countless trees bowed to flames – it makes me think of the grief that has curled around Tasmanians who heard of 24-year-old Sarah Paino who died in Hobart on an early Friday morning a week and a half back, after she dropped her baker partner to work.
Sarah was a mother of two.
Her two-year-old son was in the back seat and her 32-week-gestation baby was delivered alive after her death.
The grief has held such sting because of the injustice, the sad unfairness of a family fractured due to the choices of a 15-year-old boy who allegedly stole a car and was taking it for a joy ride when he collided with Sarah’s own vehicle.
She died instantly, leaving her babies motherless.
I wanted to scream, but the smoke had dried my throat. Yet, we did scream – in the comments on social media, at dinner tables, in cafes and across workstations. A great, heaving lament that bore all the characteristics of anger.
We have every right to be angry on Sarah and her family’s behalf, right?
It’s a righteous anger, right?
An extremely articulate friend of mine wrote something about love in this particular context. Steph’s a life coach and she helped me identify a prejudice in my heart: the one that said I should love Sarah and hate the person responsible for her death.
We should show love to those experiencing heartache as much as those causing heartache, she said. You know what, Steph wrote it better than I’ll ever paraphrase, so in her words:
“It’s a basic human principle that if you’re labeled something, even subconsciously you’ll be trying to prove it right. If someone comes alongside you and tells you that you’re a wonderful individual, that you have the world ahead of you, that you’re fun, smart, bubbly and you’re ‘going places’, you’ll take that on, consciously or subconsciously and you’ll prove them right.
But if someone tells you you’re not going anywhere, you’re a loser, a bogan or that you’re too far gone… unfortunately it seems, consciously or subconsciously, you will prove them right with your actions.”
That got me thinking about the boy who has been charged with manslaughter.
I don’t know him. I don’t know if he has brothers and sisters, if his mum and dad are around to support him, if he has a job, if he’s studying, if he likes marmalade on toast. All I know is that he (allegedly) made a series of really bad choices.
And I know something else: God loves him.
God loves him and you and me – lavishly. Amazingly, it isn’t diminished by what the courts will determine, or what society has already determined. It doesn’t suffer due to consequence or the serving of justice.
God loves justice, but he loves his people too. Somehow, that just works. In the same way that a parent continues to love a wayward child.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12)
His love is blind to labels.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
What have I learnt from these embers of grief, this waft that stings the eyes and chokes the throat? Perhaps that it’s easy to pray for the Sarahs – but can I love the shunned, as Jesus did?
And that words can be fertile seeds of encouragement in place of blunt labels of curse.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday February 1, 2016.