Recently during vacation, I awoke at 4:42 a.m. to a frightening mix of intermittent, deafening buzzing and pulsating, blinding light.
Panicked and confused, it took me a second to realize that the fire alarm was going off. As I headed toward the door just a few steps away, I couldn't find my daughter because of the strobe of the lights, so I called her name and turned to pull her out of her bed.
Because she was already up and moving, I banged my forehead against hers so hard I saw stars, which only heightened my discombobulation.
Once we were assembled outside on the lawn, I realized I was wearing a knee-length night shirt and felt a little exposed, although everyone else was in the same vulnerable situation. The irony is, being the worry-wart that I am, whenever I travel, I always sleep in exercise pants and a T-shirt just in case there is an emergency -- except this time. I've always known the moment would come, I just didn't think it would be this time.
I noticed that those assembled on the lawn were in the same boat: taken by surprise, feeling exposed, no credit cards, laptops or phones to distract us. We were a pitiful homogeneous bunch, waiting around for direction from someone in charge.
This unnerving experience along with the stories of recent celebrity deaths has prompted me to remember that inhaling one moment doesn't guarantee an exhalation. Even when medical knowledge gives us months to prepare for our exit, there is a definite moment when we are here, and then we simply aren't. It seems when anyone passes, we are all taken by surprise as I was during the hotel alarm. We do not seem to truly believe, as Hemingway said, that the bell will actually toll for us.
And when we move to the other side, no acquisitions or accolades we've garnered will mean anything as we stand empty handed, waiting for the next step from the one in charge.
As I watch the fireworks flash and fade this evening, remembering those who were alive one minute and gone the next so that I could live in a free country, I won't forget the one who died so that I can have freedom within, as well. And I won't forget that I have the same inevitable moment ahead of me: "In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye ... the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:52).