If there could be a scenario more tragic it is hard to imagine it. A mother, desperate to address a persistent problem with an insect infestation in her home, spreads a fumigant she has brought back from another country, quite unaware of the lethal nature of this chemical.
Days later, four children are gravely ill - and one, just a baby, is gone.
I struggled with writing this story, because it is both too close to me as a parent, deeply painful for our community and far too raw for those involved. I have struggled too to stay out of online debates about responsibility, about blame, about accidents and consequences. For the most part I have been successful, but on occasion I have failed, responding with my own thoughts on this tragic story.
There are many questions to be asked, to be sure, questions about the apartment complexes in our community and how they handle infestations of bed bugs and cockroaches. Questions about how one brings a chemical of this nature from another country and it is undetected by our border security who are meant to find items such as this. Questions about how we educate people about chemicals of this sort, how we cross any cultural or language barriers to ensure we do not allow people to put themselves or others at risk.
But these are questions for another day and another time, because the reality is that a family has lost a child, and continues to pray and hope for the wellbeing of their others. It is perhaps easier to ponder those questions and think they matter right now if you are not a parent, because when you hear this news you don't feel that cold fear in your heart or remember the times you did things - foolish things, perhaps - that endangered your own children. You don't imagine being the one who has lost the child, don't feel a glimmer of the pain they must feel, don't see everything else fall away as all you can focus on is the profound loss of a child, a loss from which you will never recover and the world will never be the same.
A long time ago someone told me that until you are a parent you cannot understand what it means, and I scoffed at them. Then I had my daughter and I realized how right they were, and this week I remembered those words as I waited for news of my daughter's recovery from the general anaesthesia she was receiving for dental surgery. Even though I knew it was safe and that the odds of anything happening were infinitesimally small I felt that cold fear, those moments of panic, that incipient pain should she not wake up. And when she did wake up, walked out of the recovery room groggy and in pain I thought about the parents who had a child who didn't wake up, no matter the reason for their eternal slumber, and while I held my daughter close tears slipped out of my eyes as I felt my joy mixed with tinges of their pain.
As always our community has responded to this tragic loss with grace and dignity. A crowd funding effort has seen tremendous support, and local religious groups have raised significant funds in a very short time. This outpouring of financial support will no doubt help the family as they try to recover from an incident destined to leave physical and emotional impacts that will last forever. It is however the emotional support - the words of sympathy, empathy, compassion and, yes, love, that touch me the most and that will likely enable them to survive this tragedy.
There will be those who think this is the time for the questions, who see this situation in some distant light, far from themselves and simply a matter for debate and discussion. They are, in my opinion, quite wrong. Two children continue to fight for life, a funeral for a small baby is yet to be held and the time at hand is the time to put aside questions, debates and discussions and simply allow oneself to feel what it would be like to lose a child - and then act accordingly, with compassion, sympathy and understanding. These tragedies are never as far from us as we would like to believe them to be, and only those who suffer from a strong degree of hubris would claim otherwise. As I have said recently, compassion is a gift we freely give to others because we know some day we may ask for it ourselves. This week, in a week filled with sadness and sorrow and tragedy, some good comes out of it as people reach into their hearts and connect with their compassion and offer it freely, unconditionally and unreservedly.
It is in that offering that we find the true nature of community.