Sometimes buried in the most heartbreaking tales we discover a glimmer of hope. It is one good reason to read the news, even now, when so much that makes headlines involves the worst of us doing the worst things.
The goodness of people still exists. It surfaces at unexpected moments, especially when the unimaginable happens. Like the deaths of three Chandler residents, 49-year-old Narayana Muddana; his wife Haritha, age 36; and family friend, husband and father of one, 47-year-old Gokul Mediseti.
The trio died Dec. 26, according to police, when they fell through the ice at Woods Canyon Lake outside Payson. The story of their winter picnic gone wrong has resided in the pit of my stomach for three weeks – especially the knowledge that among the witnesses were the Muddanas’ two daughters, ages 11 and 7, as well as Gokul’s wife and child.
I’ve been to that lake. It’s idyllic, a perfect place to spend a cold holiday afternoon, a spot for pictures, laughter and making memories. But imagining the sound of cracking ice and the screams – it’s something I can’t shake.
Moments after the three plunged in, a woman and two children on shore waded in to attempt a rescue. They failed, but made it out of the 30-degree water alive.
The Coconino County Sheriff’s Office and fire fighters responded. They pulled out Haritha, but she was pronounced dead at the scene. Rescue divers located the two fathers the next day.
“You never get used to it. Especially when you’re dealing with the children,” John Paxton with the Sheriff’s Office told ABC15. “We wanted to make sure they felt as safe as possible. Tried to keep them warm and away from the scene as best we could.”
The Arizona Department of Child Safety came to the lake that night and took custody of the Muddanna girls, suddenly orphaned. The children have traveled back to India to live with their grandparents.
The story would be a tragedy start to finish, save for the astonishing generosity that has followed. It comes courtesy of the 12,700 donors who chipped in to a GoFundMe campaign started the day after the deaths by a family friend named Parvathi Mettu.
Mettu stopped accepting donations a few days in, when the GoFundMe’s balance stood at $611,996.
“We offer our deepest heartfelt gratitude to all donors with folded hands and heads,” Mettu wrote on the donation page. “With the same sincere gratitude, we bring this initiative to a close.”
The last update, Jan. 1, indicates an attorney and an accountant have been engaged to secure the donations for the surviving children, to pay for “kids education and future expenses.”
The largest donation was $2,000. A dozen people donated $1,000 or more. But the giving that heartened me the most came from the hundreds of charitable souls who gave 10 bucks or 20 bucks anonymously.
Such small acts of kindness appear to have fallen out of fashion nowadays, when we are more riveted by celebrity and cultural influencers, political food fights and the latest Netflix serial killer documentary. I don’t say that as a scold, because I am no less desensitized than any other member of the masses.
Some days I pore over the news mindlessly, half-reading, the words disconnected from meaning. The murders blend together, the mayhem feels like one long horror film. It’s all I can do to flip to the comics, to Blondie, where at least Dagwood Bumstead never ages.
Every once in a while, though, people still have the capacity to surprise and to care. My heart aches for Narayana, Haritha, Gokul and kin.
But epic giving in the face of epic loss? Out of such things, we make meaning from the senseless.