Getting through this together
One of Valpo’s senior art students knows exactly where one of her paintings is. Or at least, she knows exactly where it was on Friday afternoon.
Her parents were on campus for the art walk, and they were rushing around together, and she decided to leave some of her work in the Art-Psychology building. She said, “I knew I’d be able to come back the next day and clean it up.”
And then, there was the fire.
We build our routines, our plans, our whole lives around the things we know. Where our classes will be held tomorrow. Where a certain book or tool is. Where we can house our lab rats.
Friday’s fire brings us all the painful reminder: in one mysterious instant, everything we know can be stolen from us. Our joy crashes down into grief. The expected future disappears, and suddenly it’s hard to imagine even the very next steps forward.
One of the most influential stories in the Old Testament is that of the Israelites’ exile in Babylon. They were forced to live in the land of their enemies, their conquerors, within the nation that had burned their houses and their temple to the ground. Can you imagine?
Early on in the time of exile, the elders received a letter from the prophet Jeremiah. He sent them this word from God:
“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:5-7). Then he told them that everyone claiming that they would all return home soon were liars.
Can you imagine hearing that message while forcibly exiled with your enemy? It’s a promise that there will be no going home. Your grandchildren will be born here. Might as well get used to it. Might as well pray for your new home.
Our current chapter of the Valpo story – the burning of the Art-Psychology building – is different in many ways from that ancient story of exile. But what resonates and reverbates from that story into ours is the finality of the change, the loss, the lack of control, the wondering about the future – and the grief.
Yet there is wisdom I’d like to pry out of this painful passage. What is the core of Jeremiah’s message to the exiles? It’s this: Be where you are. Stay in the moment. Live into the life that’s yours right now.
For us at Valpo, that means living into this moment of grief. For those of us with memories and work and lives connected to the Art-Psychology building, it means seeking comfort, sharing stories, shedding tears. The rest of us are called to ask questions, to listen, and to offer care.
We’ll get through this together. We already are.
And as we live into this moment of grief, we’ll find ourselves moving into a new moment. Slowly, we’ll be able to imagine a future, and then we’ll even learn to find joy in the future. When our hearts are ready.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).
Amen and amen.
May 4, 2022
MORE CARE & COMFORT:
The Valparaiso University Counseling Center can help. Stop by during regular walk-in hours Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. and let them know you are there for help re: the Art-Psychology Building fire.
Want to share your memories of the building? The Art/Psych Memory Project, a private group on Facebook for sharing memories, has been created by Abbey Grim, ’12.
Alumni/friends can contribute memories and words of encouragement at alumni.valpo.edu/apbmemorium.
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