Thursday, March 17, 2011

Clustercuss: A Confluence of Bad Events

I'm up late right now avoiding typing on "Blood", which is week 3 of our 12-week discipleship program that we are doing with our youth. I'm very excited about this program, but that's for another post for another time. (it does sound pretty inrtiguing though, doesn't it?)

Anyways, I wanted to comment on the seeming phenomenon of bad news seeming to come in groups or clusters. I like to call these (ala Wes Anderson's version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox) clustercusses, or in the singular, a clustercuss. For those more squeamish, I hope its resemblance to another, much more profane "cluster" word isn't too unsettling...but I digress.

Two weeks ago, my wife was feeling bad, so I took her into work late. My job is flexible on some days so I was able to stay around until she was ready to go. On the way to work, I rear-ended someone in a minor fender-bender. But for me this was EARTH SHATTERING. I have driven for 14 years and have never had the slightest bump or contact with any other vehicle. I've prided myself on having my very presence being capable of erecting a forcefield around my vehicle to prevent any collision: how else could I explain my flawless driving record? Well, that hubris came quickly crashing down. It turns out, I too can pay a $166 fine for wreckless driving. Cuss.

That afternoon, I wasn't getting anything done at the office, but soon I got a call. One of my students had an aunt in the hospital just hours away from dying and they had no vehicle to get the family to the hospital. So I loaded them up in the church van, and took them over to the hospital. I found out the next day that this woman, who was only 46, passed away that night. The next morning, I met with our church's young adult director for a planning meeting and he told me his grandfather had died in the same hospital on the same night. (Now, he was 89 and had lived a full life to the end...not so much a tragedy in his family's eyes as the end of an epic and admirable journey. He was indeed an admirable and decent man.)

Then, on Wednesday I find out about three more tragedies: A boy at Escambia High School overdosed on morphine, a boy from West Florida High School was accidentally shot in the head by his best friend, and the step-brother of one of our new students died from an overdose as well. All of these young people were known by people in our youth ministry.

So when I got up to speak on Wednesday night to the kids, I had to change plans. We had five deaths that affected people in our ministry in a single week. So we talked about how as Christians we deal with death, and then we just stopped and prayed for each other. People cried, people prayed, people had some release, I think. I hope.

Finally, on Friday I went to a memorial service for "Will" from Escambia and "Ryan" from West Florida run by the FCA. This FCA meeting is a bi-monthly pancake breakfast that meets in a church gym, and this particular one was devoted to remembering the deceased. One of my students ran the service and did an excellent job. But during the moment of silence, one of the cooks from the kitchen came out, and asked loudly and, to himself, humorously, "Anyone wanna pancake?!" Everyone laughed nervously. I shook my head and looked at my Baptist counterpart shaking his head too. I guess the guy didn't know what we were meeting for...he was just there to dish out pancakes.

So, this is a week that starts with my wreck-- something annoying but ultimately inconsequential. Its slammed by mid-week with 5 deaths--all of people loved, and missed dearly. And it ends with a guy shouting about pancakes, while all the kids sit there wondering why so much bad stuff happens at once.

I remember other clustercusses:

Fall 2001: I lose my two grandmothers in two months. A friend of mine gets mugged and beaten in Dallas. And in the middle of all that, September 11th 2001 happens. Clustercuss.

Fall 2004: My uncle's house burns down. A massive hurricane hits Pensacola. My friend James dies of cancer at the age of 17. And to top all of that, when we go to clear hurricane debris from James' family's house, we forget to bring half our tools, we get attacked by hornets, and it starts to rain on us. Clustercuss.

I don't know why sometimes bad things happen together, but I know that it rains on the righteous and unrighteous alike. And as I sit here watching the news about the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis in Japan, I have to send up a prayer for those people in the middle of their own cluster of bad events.

"Man is born to trouble, as surely as sparks fly upward..." Job 5:7

Lord, hasten the day when our troubles cease. Until then, make me part of the solution to solve others' troubles.


  1. Pat, this is a great post. I'm glad you're there for those kids--just where you need to be. But dang it all, we miss you.

    "Clustercuss" is a great term. xoxo

  2. I miss yall too! Who knows? Maybe our ministry paths shall cross again sometime...In any case, I really want to bring Jess down there whenever we get the chance.