"Night!" Billy waved to his friends as he walked out their back door, shutting it behind him and walking out into the cold, drizzly night. The sounds of waves against the cliffs were not far off -- they never were -- but he dismissed them. Nobody went near the cliffs; folks knew they were full of danger.
As Billy walked along the path northward toward his house, a fog drifted in and soon the only light he had from the moon was so diffused he couldn't tell in which direction he was going. Even the sound seemed to lose all sense of direction with the fog, and so he couldn't know how close he came to the water, but suddenly all sound drifted off. He kept walking, sure he hadn't turned too greatly.
Suddenly his footing fell out from under him and he slid downward at great speed. He snatched and snatched until he found a grip and swung helpless. Within moments the fog was gone and Billy found himself perched a third of the way down the cliff with the massive waves crashing loudly against the rocks below. Billy screamed for help.
With the fog gone, the villagers nearby could hear him and rushed from their homes.
"How did this happen! You're a smart man! You know to avoid the cliffs!"
"A fog came and I was lost!" Billy screamed back. "Help me!"
"And me!" cried someone near Billy, and then another. "And me, too!"
Billy looked about and realized that he, alone, was not perched precariously on the rocky cliffs, but many others were.
"But, you disobeyed us! You are the ones who were told not to come near the cliffs and came anyway! Why should they help you? I'm innocent! I didn't try to come here! A fog came upon me and I grew lost!"
"Your fog of weather was our fog of heart!" cried one. "Are we not all creatures of God? Do we all not deserve rescue!?"
"No!" Billy cried in anger. "You don't!"
"Billy!" cried a soft, older man who had just arrived.
Billy looked up. "Mayor!"
"Our rules do not allow for accidents. If you have fallen to the cliffs, then there must be a reason you should be out there, just like the rest of them."
"But, that's not fair! They came on purpose! I'm here by accident! Surely we cannot be treated the same!"
"I'm sorry, Billy! But the law is the law!" cried the mayor.
"Billy!" cried Billy's mom. "This isn't right! Are you sure it was the fog!"
"It was the fog, ma!" yelled Billy.
"Why!" Billy's mom cried up toward the stars. "Why would you let my son fall this way!? The cliffs are so very dangerous and he has a wife and children waiting for him at home!"
"So do I!" cried one of the others near Billy, clinging tiredly to the cliff face. Another yelled, "As do I!"
Billy looked around, angry and frustrated and hurt by the mayor's ruling, but then looked carefully at the faces of the men and women around him. Many had come to the cliffs by making poor decisions, decisions not easily taken back. Billy wanted to rage at God for allowing this to happen, but as he looked across their faces, he began to see how many there truly were. There were so many, and many looked at him with faces hungry for salvation, hungry for rescue. They may have made bad decisions to get here, but they didn't want to stay, and he knew many would stay far from the cliffs should they be pulled to safety.
Billy pressed his forehead to the rock. "Give me the strength."
With that, Billy began to climb. Slow handhold over handhold, just like his grandpa taught him in the mountains where his grandpa lived. While most of the village had gone home, Billy's family watched with prayer and surprise to see Billy climb up the cliff. It was a very slow, arduous task and Billy slipped several times. At first he lay where he had fallen, barely hanging on, but as he pressed upward he slipped less and recovered more quickly.
Soon Billy was making great strides, and others who did not know how to climb the rocks were following his example, climbing up the face, see where he put his hands to put their hands; what kinds of rock to avoid so as not to fall or slip. Soon a whole line was following him up.
At the very top Billy had to take great care, as the top of the cliff was soft and crumbly. He realized that even with the line of people following him out, if he didn't help them, they would never make it over that final lip. So, using all the knowledge from his grandpa, he carefully climbed up the last few feet to his family.
"Billy!" they embraced him, and after he clung and wept with them, he pointed at his eldest son. "Go get me a rope, thirty feet long. Hurry!"
The boy took off at a run and his wife frowned at him. "What are you doing?"
Billy began to weep. "You cannot see what I saw down there. You don't realize how many people are there, clinging to life on the edge of our world! There are so many who needed to see the salvation available to each of them! None of us ventures near the cliff! None of us knows how many people down there are begging for help! We need to help those who are willing to follow my example find the salvation available here! I'm going to help them!"
"But you had to cling to the cliffs!" cried Billy's mom. "They were so dangerous! And it wasn't your fault! How could God let you fall! Now everyone will know you've been on the cliffs!"
"I don't care what everyone else knows!" said Billy. "I now know that there are people in need of salvation clinging to the cliffs! God has revealed them to me, and has shown me exactly the nature of their struggle. He has used me, and I accept his use."
His boy returned with the rope out of breath. Billy took the rope, wrapped it around his waist and threw the rest over the side.
"But Billy!" cried his wife. "What if they pull you back down the cliffs!?"
"I will stand here with all my strength," Billy said, "unless you help me. Unless you call my friends to come and be the counterweight, until I can build a new house on this spot, where we can hear their cries more clearly and rescue them more soundly with a strong foundation, where we can tie many ropes to many places on the cliff and bring more people to safety. I know now why I fell. It was so I might see and know.
"And now that I know, how can I not do something?"
Have you dealt with something terrible and tragic? Do you cry out to heaven or the universe and curse it for making you suffer? Or are you willing to look again and see how tragedy in your own life can lead you to helping others who are now entering a dark place you've now survived? Our live's journeys are not all about us. We can take those lessons and help others through the same difficulties. Show mercy where none is deserved, show love where none has been earned. Give without thought of getting. Serve and love those who need it. Turn your own tragedy into hope for others.