Two significant events occurred in the past two weeks, one global and the other local.

On Dec. 5, Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95, and in the early hours of last week Wednesday morning a fire broke out in downtown Ripon.

The memorial service for Mandela was attended by four U.S. presidents.

Firefighters, reporters and curious spectators viewed the blaze downtown last week.

At first, Mandela’s death seems isolated from the fire in our small town. But I see a connection between these two events.

Such occurances are what make us human.

I read the status of a Ripon Facebook friend this morning who wrote, “A man at the gas station (I was at the BP station by Save A Lot) noticed the fire department plate on my truck and asked if I was a fireman. I kind of laughed and told him no, but my husband is. He asked if he is at the fire in town and when I said that he’s been there since 3:30 [a.m.] he told me to, ‘Tell him thank you for risking his own safety and life for others.’ I just about tipped over — couldn’t be a prouder wife at that moment!”

You have probably seen in a newspaper or on TV the mounds of flowers laid by strangers in South Africa to honor the great hero.

Through the tragedy of Ripon’s fire and the sadness and celebration of Madiba’s passing we are reminded of the care and love in the world and in our community. ...

From both of these sad events I am filled with joy. I feel jubilant that God has given us the gift of compassion that we can share with others.

When we suffer heartache we don’t suffer alone. God mourns with us and gives us brothers and sisters to carry the burden as well.

This year, in my own thoughts, I’ve explored what it means to be human.

What I’ve found most compelling is how we react to times when life is really tough. From those moments I’ve seen the greatest beauty in people; I believe that is a direct expression of God’s presence within all of us.

From the physical loss of Mandela I have seen a world that has taken time to celebrate his beliefs, not because they were his but because they are all of ours: love, education, resilience, reconciliation.

From the downtown fire I see care from the community for the families and business owners on that block, even when some of us don’t know any of those affected by name....

We cannot avoid the pain of tragedy and we feel helpless when it comes. But we are surrounded by wise men, angels, shepherds, Marys, and Josephs who take care of us and who love us.

We are made in the image of Jesus, but I also think we are made in the image of all who attended his birth, and in this way we have the gift of compassion and love to share with the world.

Andrea Lyke, a 2011 Ripon High School graduate, is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is majoring in biology and Spanish.

To read the entire column, see the Dec. 19, 2013 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.

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