Tragedy on a train

It was a long train journey from Karachi in the south of Pakistan to Rawalpindi in the north and the family had their supplies, even their own gas stove.

But somehow, in the process of cooking, a fire started and quickly spread to the whole carriage and 73 people were burnt to death or suffocated in the flames or died jumping from the moving train.

It is so easy to imagine. If you are careful there should be no problem. When Shackleton and the men he was with in a small boat in the Antarctic waters one hundred year ago, made their epic journey to South Georgia, they cooked their food on a similar stove in the tossing sea. But the trouble is ‘human error’ – that old bogey that brings down super airliners and sinks mighty ships like the Titanic.

More and more health and safety rules and laws crowd our statute books and job descriptions but at the end of the day it is down to the individual person; does he or she pay attention to what they are doing and take every possible step to avoid failure. Even if they do, and there is the best will in the world, there will still be room for mistakes.

Robert Browning puts it this way:

Our interest is on the dangerous side of things

The honest thief, the tender murderer,

the superstitious atheist.

The superstitious atheist, demirep

that loves and saves her soul in new French books.

People love to take risks.  They sense it is a human thing to do. To live ‘safely’ is not to live at all. Explore the boundaries!  A child instinctively tests the limits of the rules and goes beyond them. The saints are often among the broken and the battered.

In the Catholic tradition we make official saints whose lives and love have been outstanding.  But they are the tiniest fraction of the saints. There are millions who have tried and failed, have risked and lost, have struggled only to end their days in a cell for the condemned.  And in that same tradition we have a day each year, November 1, when we honour them. Among them are our relatives and friends. We remember them and go, in our imagination, to where they are – waiting for us.

Meanwhile we continue our risky way, hoping we will not endanger the lives of those around us, ever conscious that is precisely what we may often, unknowingly, do.

November 1                             All Saints Day

Revelations 7:2 …11               1 John 3:1-3                            Matthew 5:1-12

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