On Monday I went on my first call with the fire dept that included a victim fatality. The man had apparently been driving at a normal highway speed (I cannot speculate as to his actual speed), when something impeded his attention to the road. He swerved into the back of an "18-wheeler" flatbed trailer without so much a hitting the brakes (I surmised this from the absence of skid marks; though I'm hardly qualified to forensically investigate accident scenes). After striking the trailer, his pickup was so crushed that the airbags were rendered functionally irrelevant. The net result was that he seemingly (according to my untrained opinion) died on impact.
The Fate Fire Dept had been at the scene for a while by the time I got there, cutting away the doors to gain access to the victim. When I arrived on scene to offer support, they were in the last moments of removing gnarled car parts in their way. I spent time on the scene praying for the firefighters and those working on the accident, giving them water to because of the heat they were experiencing laboring in their bunker gear. As a result, I saw everything.
At the time it didn't occur to me as strongly, likely because, like the other personnel on scene, I was much more focused on the job. Later though, after some time for the experience to ferment in my mind, there was much that was sobering, and in many ways seemed down right wrong.
I understand, a little more now, the emphasis of Paul in 1 Cor 15:26-58 regarding victory over Death. It is an evil and horrific enemy, layering indignities upon insults at the end of one's life. Few things can scream, "This is NOT how it's supposed to be!" like seeing someone recently dead (or dead for a while for that matter). The sights, sounds and even smells all war with one's perception of how the world is "supposed" to work. While certainly one may become like a machine for the sake of getting the job done while on scene, later you realize that you took a human with you in your skin - a human that took in data through the senses that contradicts many dearly held assumptions about how the world works.
According to these assumptions:
-the body is NOT supposed to bend and flop around that way. Even if a crushed vehicle has left very few intact bones, it's still NOT supposed to twist this way and that way like a lifeless rag doll.
-people ARE supposed to be full of life, not a lifeless body crumpled up behind a crushed steering while.
Who knew that Death has a distinct smell? It wafts on the air; hovers over the scene; attacks the nostrils and leaves the lasting memory of an unnatural stench. No wonder that so much superstition and lore surrounds the specter of Death. Paul understandably personifies Death as an enemy that Christ has, and will, defeat in resurrection (both His and ours).
The nature of our hope in Christ cannot be separated from the resurrection. Rightly do Christians tire of incomplete presentations of the Gospel that offer purpose and fulfillment for this life alone. Death is coming, and it will strip all vestiges of human dignity and importance. Have we a Christ that offers a better experience for this life alone? Do we not also have a Christ that offers victory over this ancient and cruel enemy?
As I reflected further on the man pulled from the crunched vehicle, I remembered several aspects that hit me with bludgeoning force later in the evening.
As I watched the firefighters perform their extrication work, I didn't know not to look at the victim's face. My Captain would later offer the sage wisdom not to do that again. Avoiding that practice has spared him many a nightmare. I'll remember that in the future.
The victim's left arm was pinned to his chest by the support beam. When the frame support was removed, his arm fell to his left side. Oh God! There's a ring on his left hand. Some widow will be getting a call, or a visit from an officer in his hometown very soon. God, please comfort her and his family.
Typically, when someone is a crash victim, pinned inside the vehicle, rescue workers talk to them constantly to reassure them throughout the extrication. Even if the victim can't talk back for medical reasons, the rescuers still talk to them. Oh God, why isn't anyone talking to him? The silence is deafening. There's no one there to talk to. THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE!
There is no resolution to this until the resurrection. Death is not good. It's not "just another part of life." It's anti-life. It's non-life. Death is an indignity that people were never meant to suffer. The respect that rescue workers show the deceased is laudable, but they cannot reverse the damnable horror of lifelessness. Only the power wielded by none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ can affect such a victory, and we are assured that he will at a timing of his choosing. Until then, we lament loudly, and wail in collective disgust to the One that will bring the ultimate rescue, shouting:
How long, O Lord?! How long?
How long must we endure such things that are not how it's supposed to be?