A lovely Parisian picnic in the park on Saturday with friends: chicken skewers and salad, good cheese with a tasty baguette, a delicious home-made apple cake—what could be better? Fifteen minutes after we left, lightning struck a birthday party of nine-year-olds in that same park.
We’d hoped to go visit the medieval town of Provins on Saturday with some friends with a car, but due to the crazy strikes and fuel shortages, we scrapped those plans for fear we might not be able to get gas to make it back home. So, Plan B: a picnic in the city. All week my weather app had been predicting afternoon thunderstorms, and all week they hadn’t come. It was the same on Saturday. Would the weather hold? Hard to say, but what’s the worst that could happen?
We got our picnic together and strolled the two miles to one of my favorite parks in Paris: Parc Monceau. Situated in a lovely neighborhood in the 8th arrondissement, it’s guarded by ornate iron gates and is known for its faux-Roman colonnade and other “follies,” such as a pyramid thing that looks like it’s straight out of an illuminati conspiracy.
The sun was out, the air pleasant. On our forty-five minute walk to the park, we passed florists offering bouquets for Mothers’ Day (which is today in France), dodged camera wielding tourists, crossed the Champs-Élysées at the Arc de Triomphe, and soon made it to our goal.
The park was busy. Plenty of picnickers, joggers, and children playing. Pony rides making the rounds of the serpentine paths. People working out with weights and doing lunges (I’ve seen people with their personal trainers there more than once). We walked up the main way that bisects the park and found a grassy spot near the pond. Perfect. Grey clouds had rolled in and the temperature had a dropped a bit, but no matter; we had some serious picnicking to do.
By the time we were polishing off our pieces of apple cake, the drops falling from the sky were becoming more insistent and we heard occasional rumblings of thunder, but nothing terribly close.
For us, the timing was good; we gathered up what little was leftover, folded up the blanket and strolled over to an area under the trees next to the pond where the ducks were chasing each other (I’d never seen a couple of mallards get into it so much trying to impress a disinterested female.) A few turtles were also out on the little island in the pond, and one plopped in and slowly swam—or drifted (he wasn’t exactly Mr. Energetic)—toward us.
Eventually the show was over and we headed home. It wasn’t till hours later that we heard the news: shortly after we’d left the park, eleven people seeking shelter under a tree from the storm—including eight children—were struck by lightning.
Certainly everyone has had a near-miss of one sort or another in life—just go for a drive on the freeway. I’ve been in car wrecks that could’ve been deadly if the timing or angle of impact had been even slightly different. We all could share stories of how things could’ve been worse or times when we escaped without harm when others suffered. What are we to make of such things? How should we respond?
Some people see a birthday party of children getting struck by lightning and blame God. Or see it as evidence that there is no god. Some conclude that misfortune and disaster comes to those who deserve it. (Jesus didn’t buy that, even warning those who considered the victims of disaster to be terrible sinners that they in fact were no more righteous; check out Luke 13).
Yesterday in our family, the conversation took a different turn: how could we live with the fact that we had enjoyed a perfectly lovely picnic in the same park where moments later a bunch of children and their parents were horribly injured and nearly killed? We weren’t any more virtuous, we weren’t any smarter. We went under the trees to get out of the rain and watch ducks play. We didn’t think the thunder and lightning seemed particularly close or anything terribly dangerous. In light of such dreadful news and such sorrow, how do we go on with having dinner and movie? Isn’t that somehow heartless?
When we got the news, we prayed for the victims and their families. We felt sorrow for what had happened. I’ve been checking the news on the web ever since for updates. But nothing can give us any more insight into why this happened.
Life is full of these questions. Yesterday it was put to us starkly, especially for our daughter who was with us on the picnic. But truly, these question are always with us. Why was I born in the USA instead of (insert war-torn failed state here)? There are no shortage of broken, dysfunctional families; why was I blessed with parents that love and care for me? I could go on and on, but there are no real answers to such questions; we all have a different lot in life; we’re all blessed in various ways—and we will all experience our share of misfortune and sadness. Chasing the question of why is ultimately a chasing after the wind.
The real question is: what are we going to do with what we do have?