To those of you that have written over the past week asking me to respond to the horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT, I had no words. Today, all I can give you is what’s in my heart this morning.
It seems impossible to sing songs of Christmas cheer or hold unsullied the hope of new light coming in from the darkness when twenty babies and six of their caretakers are now incomprehensively taken from their families, their communities, from us. We have all wept with them. Nothing seems enough, nothing. As a person whose work is ministerial, I have asked myself the question, “How does one console those who are beyond consoling?” We can bring food, hold prayer services and vigils, raise money for good works to emerge, write notes. These are all vital and give our bodies something to do to relieve their own sense of powerlessness. And then we can cry some more. What we can do for those beyond consoling is to be sad beyond comprehension, with them, as best we can; and not to turn away because it is too sad for us.
I have thought over these last days that if somehow cosmically, we could, each of us, line up and take a day; to take a day to bear the grief for the mothers and fathers, so that perhaps for an infinitesimal moment or two, their heaviest of burdens could be lessened. They could have a few free breathes of blessed rest. To say and mean, wholeheartedly, let me bear your grief for today, I will stay in bed and rock with primal pain for your baby, I will remember their laugh, their disdain for broccoli, their dancing eyes, I would do that. Then tomorrow, my friend, my neighbor would. If only this could be so.
Enough please with the current mantra, about being spiritual but not religious. Enough. Religion means that which binds us together. Being human binds us together. Being human IS religious. What you suffer, I too suffer. We are all on this planet, in this together.
This unspeakable crime speaks to me today of isolation. Yes, in some ways, the internet, social media and 24 hour news cycles can and do help us in this regard. They keep us connected when disasters, natural and human- made strike. We, in the broader community can quickly respond, and in some necessarily immediate ways. In addition, email, texting, Skype, and the like enable us to communicate with friends, family, and acquaintances when we can’t get to see them in person.
But nothing replaces real time human interaction. Nothing. In close knit communities, we know lots and lots about other people’s business. Sometimes too much. Yet still in our overly activated culture, where we are driven to distraction at times, there is too much suffering in silence, in isolation. Those that are continuing bullied by the “popular” kids , who then commit suicide. Those who are feeling alienated, because of sexual orientation or that they “just don’t fit it”, or for a host of other reasons, they are considered the other.
We can change some of this through education and acceptance. But nothing beats looking someone in the eyes and taking a moment to actually SEE THEM. Nothing is better than a real visit to your neighbor to find out how her son in Oregon is feeling from his cancer treatments, to see her eye to eye. This is when we begin to know and notice when things are not OK. While we may not be able to heal a situation, maybe would catch a storm brewing, maybe. Our places we have historically built community are shrinking, and we can change that. Our perennial busy-ness leaves us forgetting to look up, to actually notice the person serving our food, or that our kid came home melancholy from school yesterday, we can change that.
As to the issues of gun control and mental health that this tragedy has brought into our national consciousness:
Perhaps now our country will give more than lip service to the insane lack of gun control, with still no ban on automatic weapons, continuing paltry at best background checks on individuals who can purchase guns like getting milk at the grocery store. Where powerful lobby groups, like the NRA, whose answer to the tragedy is more gunmen at schools to protect the children! Really?! The second amendment of the United States Constitution, the right to bear arms, was written only a decade after the Revolutionary War ended, when the memory of soldiers walking into the sanctity of citizen’s homes without warrant, to take any of their possessions, including the honor of their women, was still fresh. The genius of our Constitution is that it was written is such a way that allows for us to amend the amendments…for the inevitable changes of a country evolving.
Mental Health- Perhaps now the woefully inadequate, overburdened and underfunded mental health system, with dedicated and overworked, caring professionals will be given the priority and attention it so desperately needs. Among the challenges to be tackled, so evident here, is to make sure we can keep safe (for as long as is needed) in hospitals and group homes, those who, because of severe psychosis and other serious disorders, are a danger to themselves and others.
While we work, while we play, while we wait, we can do what we can.
We can look someone in the eyes today, the overworked cashier at the mall, the guy who pumped your gas, and say thank you, smile, look them in the eyes, and ask them how they are doing today… and mean it.