By Ricardo Márquez
The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building on June 24 in the town of Surfside, Florida, touched us.
Weeks of intense efforts to rescue anyone who had survived have ended. On July 20, the death toll stood at 97, with some residents still missing.
I have felt many emotions as the images of the falling building were shown over and over again. They have led me to see the collapse as a metaphor for life.
A metaphor is a tool of language that invites as “to go further,” to compare a concrete reality with another reality that is more expansive. In this case, the reality of what happened with this building invites is to go further and think about our own lives.
During our life’s journey we build structures, beliefs, that lead us to think that we are protected, that we are strong and safe when we have accumulated wealth, material goods or a svelte figure. Along the way, we neglect to maintain the things that matter: love, friendship, respect, compassion and humility.
At some point, the emotional overload of frustrations, problems, illness or conflicts lead the structure of a person to crack and collapse, at times into depression and death.
We saw diverse reactions to the tower’s collapse. Some asked, “Where is God in all of this?” Others expressed doubt and even rage at what happened, and the pain it caused. These feelings challenged the image of God that we cling to.
Others spoke of an “awakening,” of realizing what is important in life. Faced with the danger of the collapse, the first thing they did was rush outside to save the lives of those they could. They did not stop to look for a checkbook, or a safe, or clothes, or documents. Having to face the possibility of dying in an instant led them to value each instant of whatever life awaits them going forward.
It’s in moments such as these that the lights and shadows that accompany us as human beings truly emerge. The mother with broken hips who rescued her daughter from the rubble and escaped with her. The man who ran away and didn’t stop to open the door of people begging for help from inside. The first responders and search-and-rescue brigades from all over the world who tirelessly worked to save, rescue and return the victims to their loved ones. That’s life: In an instant, we see who we are and who we could be.
This event, like the pandemic, continues to tell us that we are one, that we are connected, that we are not indifferent to pain, that what I do or stop doing matters to heal and elevate or to injure and divide. The option we take is in our hands.
This is my hope as the collapse begins to recede from the headlines: that each of us is willing to reflect on our life, to appreciate it and to nurture it; that the sudden death of our brothers and sisters doesn’t leave us untouched; and that we continue to search for what is important, for “the hidden treasure” that gives meaning and joy to our life.
Ricardo Márquez, PhD, is associate director of the Diocese of San Diego’s Office for Family Life and Spirituality.