Thursday 29 September 2016

Nation grieves as summer of adventure ends in awful tragedy

Published 17/06/2015 | 02:30

'The sadness is almost unimaginable: the joy of a 21st birthday celebration is transformed into catastrophe in a matter of seconds'
'The sadness is almost unimaginable: the joy of a 21st birthday celebration is transformed into catastrophe in a matter of seconds'

The J1 visa trip to the US has been a rite of passage that has become de rigueur for generations of Irish students.

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It is a fleeting chance to touch the hem of the American dream.

Alas, with the heart-wrenching news from San Francisco, it has ended in heartbreak and has now become a nightmare for the families and friends of those who died in the tragedy at Berkeley.

Read more: Berkeley tragedy victims: 'Great, young kids... full of energy'

Young lives are not supposed to have early endings. For those left behind, the anguish and the hurt seems all the deeper in the gulf of "what might have been."

The sadness is almost unimaginable: the joy of a 21st birthday celebration is transformed into catastrophe in a matter of seconds. The sudden snuffing out of six vibrant, young lives compounded with the anxiety endured by the relatives of the severely injured, sets this terrible accident aside as one of the most searing tragedies to have touched the nation for many years.

Read more: Political leaders say their hearts are breaking for families of students

The sense of shock and disbelief is shared by the whole country. For the families, as Taoiseach Enda Kenny said, it seemed even more "truly terrible to have such a serious and sad incident at the beginning of a summer of adventure and opportunity...

"My heart breaks for the parents who lost children this morning and I can only imagine the fear in the hearts of other parents," he added.

The show of solidarity from the community of students that converged on the complex on Kittredge Street, close to the University of California, was touching.

The disbelief and anguish etched into the young faces was all too apparent.

Read more: Injured in balcony tragedy could face big medical costs despite insurance

This was one of those shattering events that challenge comprehension, and in the aftermath of which it seems almost callous to ask how could it have happened.

Such searching questions are perhaps best left for another day, but they will need to be asked and answered, nonetheless.

There are simply no words of consolation that can be offered that do not seem irredeemably trite and inconsequential, given the context of the calamity.

The consulate staff and the Department of Foreign Affairs have done all they can to reach out to all those bereaved by events in Berkeley.

Read more: Bohemian spirit and cheap rents draw students to Berkeley

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan broke the difficult news with decency and compassion, and commenting on the outpouring of sympathy and emotion said: "This demonstrates that this is an incident that has touched many Irish families - not just those whose sons and daughters were actually there, but all families who have a loved one travelling this summer."

At this remove, it is also too soon to expect that even the healing hands of time can take away the sense of grief felt by the families of those who perished.

It is to be hoped that they may eventually learn to live with the void.

Read more: Berkeley Tragedy: Police were called to apartment before balcony collapsed - but were diverted to a shooting

Modern living, in an information age, programmes us to expect immediate resolutions and rational, symmetrical solutions for every complex situation. But all such expectations dissolve in the face of human heartbreak.

A Nobel Peace Prize winner whose every day was a contest in helping the world's poor to cheat the odds and keep going in the face of overwhelming suffering, had a unique formula. Mother Teresa's strategy was simple: "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies."

But given that this tragedy happened near San Francisco, the words of St Francis are also apt: "All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle."

Irish Independent

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