This past weekend has held a lot of tears. We’ve seen them on TV, we’ve shed them in our home, we’ve shared them with so many across this country. I’ve memorized the faces of those lost, and I’ve envisioned they were my babies, forcing myself to imagine the tiniest fraction of these parents’ pain as if it carries a bit of their burden, as if it relieves their suffering. It doesn’t.
I returned to one of my latest reads this weekend, Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, dog-eared and highlighted in many places, one specifically related to this kind of tragedy and the vulnerability that arises from it. Brown refers to her research of families who have lost children and experienced unspeakable traumas in life and what she learned from them: “Don’t squander joy. We can’t prepare for tragedy and loss. When we turn every opportunity to feel joy into a test drive for despair, we actually diminish our resilience. Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope. The joy becomes part of who we are, and when bad things happen—and they do happen—we are stronger.” (from Daring Greatly, Gotham Books, 2012)
We all are feeling raw, exposed, hurt and confused because yes, this could happen to any one of us. Enjoying moments with our families this past weekend may have felt awkward, not right, not fair. We all feel broken for the families who have experienced this tragedy. But we are not desperate. Fear will not win. Hate will never prevail.
I attended a child’s funeral this year—a heart-wrenching experience to say the least. I’ll never forget her daddy’s words as he stood, voice trembling, from the podium and asked one thing of friends and family: “Please don’t speak about her in past tense. Please don’t put her on a shelf as someone who was. She IS and always will be.”
The twenty children who died and the teachers and school workers who sacrificed their lives to save them ARE. They exist, in the present and in the future, their stories preserved, retold and cherished by all that love them. They stand as a constant reminder to all of us that the world needs more compassion, more love, more reaching in, more stretching out, more thought, more connection, more community.
Friends in New York talk about the aftermath of 9-11. How in the days that followed the tragedy, the city was drenched in love—people stopping in the streets to hug, eyes connecting, smiles reassuring, and thousands of kindness acts expressed because people needed each other. The callouses of routines and jobs and things and money had been removed and what lay raw and exposed was vulnerability—the need we all share to love and be loved. New York might never be the same after that day, but eventually people returned to old habits. In a hurry, consumed, unaware—scabs that cover what hurts to be exposed.
In grieving for these families this week, there is a sense of community and compassion that is present. We’re asking questions about how to make the world better, and we are joining together in our quest for answers. In our pursuit to restore, we are listening and reaching out. This weekend, I joined with both friends from out of town and friends from our village. We talked a lot about Connecticut, and we talked about ordinary things too. There were tears, but there was also laughter. There was a sunset. There was a storm. There was a rainbow.
The family e-mail chain has awakened with lively discussions, quiet friends have emerged through texts and calls, and neighbors have hugged in the streets. These open arms feel the most comfortable place to be in a world that seems scary right now.
The only thing I know to do is to fall more into love—to draw close to things that are good, the people and places and experiences that draw the best from me. To honor the children and teachers that are lost, I pay attention to the children and teachers, friends and strangers who have not been lost.
There are questions to be answered, issues to be discussed, concerns to be addressed. Yes, we can do more. But we will always be vunerable. We are always at risk of losing what we love. And the only way to soften that pain is to keep loving.
From “A Brief for the Defense” by Jack Gilbert:
“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.”
(From Refusing Heaven, Knopf 2005)
The poem in its entirety is worth the read.
I’ve never liked the phrase “moving on” after tragedy. We don’t move on. We move forward, taking memories, precious faces and stories, and the things we’re learning with us. As we move forward into the holidays this week, let us have the stubbornness to accept and hear the music among “the ruthless furnace of this world.” Let us find ways to offer compassion and the humility to receive it.
Again, I am thankful for this community here. How we all are listening and sharing our stories. How we are learning.
This made me smile today. Restoration, friends. xo