For Homecoming Prayer Service 2017
There’s a saying, I know you’ve heard it. YOLO. You Only Live Once. Let me tell you something about YOLO. YOLO is a lie.
You don’t only live once. You live every time you wake up in the morning. You live a new day 365 times a year, if you’re lucky, every day a new chance for a new beginning, a new way to think of others before yourself, and a new way to be kind. A new way to live the spirit of Jesus Christ, and be a source of God’s love to others.
YOLO. That isn’t true. You live anew with every breath. Take a breath.
I’ll tell you what you do once. You die once. You die once, one time and that’s the end but not even that’s true really. To tell you the truth, today is October 17. October 17 has been a really weird day for me for 28 years now because October 17, 2017, is the 28th anniversary of the day I died.
The person I was at 5:03 p.m. on Tuesday October 17, 1989 was not the same person I was at 5:05. That 5:03 girl was insecure, self-absorbed, and sad. I was vain, unhappy, and chronically disappointed. I looked to others for validation and approval rather than believing in myself. I hated being alone but found making friends impossible. I had a boyfriend but I made his life miserable with my constant whining and complaining and blaming him for my own dissatisfaction with myself.
Even though I was lucky enough to have parents who paid for my University tuition and rent for a cute house in downtown Santa Cruz, I felt sorry for myself because I had to get work for money for groceries and other things. Even though I was lucky enough to land a job at a hardware store down the street from my house, I felt sorry for myself because I either worked or went to school seven days a week.
Tuesday October 17 was a particular day of woe because it was a beautiful beach day in Santa Cruz. The sky was clear and the sun was hot. I walked to the store against a tide of happy people headed to the beach in the opposite direction.
The only good thing about the day of October 17, 1989 was that my long, lonely work hours at the Santa Cruz Ace Hardware downtown were broken up by making keys for a young man and woman setting up a new Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company next door. They were named Sean and Robin. They were funny and cool and nice to me. I met them several times that day because they had to keep coming in for stuff they needed. WE told jokes and laughed a lot that day. I felt sorry for myself because I wished they were my actual friends.
At 5:04, several things happened at once in the state of California. The upper deck of the Bay Bridge broke and tilted onto the bottom deck. The World Series was halted. The Cypress Structure collapsed.
And the unhappy, self-centered girl I was? I guess you could say she died too in the Loma Prieta earthquake, and that was in many ways a mercy.
The initial jolt of the Loma Prieta earthquake lasted fifteen seconds and hit 6.9 on the Richter Scale. In fifteen seconds, Northern California remembered the price of living in such a beautiful place so near the Pacific Ocean. Life isn’t always so pacific here. Sometimes Mother Earth rolls over in bed and shakes everybody off.
Ace Hardware was in a hundred-year-old brick building built on a layer of dirt over a marshy landfill. Do you know what liquefaction is? It’s when in an earthquake the marsh and dirt collide and make dirt jello. I can tell you what liquefaction in a major seismic event feels, hears, and looks like.
At 5:04, on October 17, I happened to be signing my time card by a big oak desk. I dove beneath the desk as debris crashed to the ground, sealing me in.
I kicked my way out when the hard shaking stopped. The ground jiggled underneath the floorboards. When I finally stepped over the shards of broken glass into the daylight, the hot sun on my head was ecstatic. Fierce joy rushed me on my way home through the white dust clouds and past the split trees dripping sap. Smoke billowed out of roofs, smashed glass and bricks littered the sidewalks and sewage spurted through sidewalk cracks like geysers.
Every breath tasted like smoke. But I was alive. I was alive and I was different than before. I was alive and I was grateful.
Two days later at my parents’ house, I watched the news while workers wheeled Robin and Sean’s sheet-covered bodies out of the rubble that used to be our building. It turns out Sean was a little girl’s dad. Robin was deeply loved by a desperately hopeful sweetheart who rallied for rescue workers to keep searching through the night until they found her. They were killed instantly when a beam fell on top of them in the first seconds of the earthquake.
I watched on tv while their bodies were removed from the pile of bricks and I started to cry. Then I stopped. The tears for my wonderful, kind, hard-working wish-friends dried up and I’ve held them in ever since.
Why them and not me? I didn’t know. I still don’t know. I was a cranky nineteen-year-old college student with very few friends, very little passion for anything or anyone. I only cared about myself. I realized in that moment in front of the television that I’d almost had to knock on God’s front door without having anything to show for myself. I wasn’t helping anybody. I wasn’t making myself of use to anyone.
Most of life happens in small moments, not big ones. But sometimes life happens in the big moments that you never forget.
As a side note, at least I had an ordered life and resources to return to. There are people in Somalia, Puerto Rico, Myanmar, and countless other places in the world who face unimaginable disasters and are left with nothing and nowhere to go.
I, however, did have a home and a life and a college degree to finish. For the first time I understood how grateful I should have been all along for the gifts of my precious, beautiful life. I understood that I needed to be of use.
As soon as I returned to Santa Cruz, I started volunteering at the St. Francis Homeless Shelter. The managers didn’t like me at first. They thought I was an anthropology major there to spy on the guys. After several months of showing up to help with dinner and to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings as moral support, the people running the place cornered me in the kitchen and asked me what I was really doing there.
What was I doing there? I was finding meaning for my life. I was trying to find friends. I was trying to make it worth it to the universe that while two good people died on the other side of the wall, I happened to be next to a big oak desk and so was spared. I was trying despite everything to be of some use.
I didn’t say all that. I mumbled something about the will of God. One of the managers handed me a small statue of a nun in prayer and apologized for thinking I was an anthropology major. I kept that little statue for years.
I don’t know what were in the prayers of the porcelain nun. I know what remain in mine every single day since October 17, 1989.
Please let me be of use. Please let me be of use. Please let me be of use.
Please bow your heads and pray with me.
Dear Lord, use us
Don’t let the world confuse us
Into thinking you can lose us
Lead us into your Light and infuse us
With the wisdom to know that no moment is owed us
The time we have here together will be over in four three two and now less that one year
Let they who have ears to hear, HEAR
Let us get to knowing that there is nothing we shall fear
If we have each other’s backs with you as our shield and our spear
Lord, do we get what you are saying?
Or are we being cruel to our classmates then claiming that we’re only playing?
Lord, are listening to your Commandment to Love and obeying?
Or are we taking what’s not ours without paying
Tossing curse words and slurs at people’s heads and hearts like bullets ricocheting
Are we leaving when we should be staying?
Are we complaining about our lives when we should be falling down on our knees and praying?
Lord, let us live like you
Spend our moments in this time to be made anew
In your love for us and for eachother let there be no more excuse
Lord, take us for your own
And let us be of use
Let us be of use
Let us be of use.