Saturday, December 15, 2012

And we grieve

I awakened this morning, haunted by the 20 innocents slaughtered yesterday. My heartache at this is palpable; yet I am aware that our nation grieves with me.

This haunting extends beyond those 20 children. My mind cannot begin to grasp what the parents of those children are dealing with this morning. Or the traumatized children whose school was so violated. Or the faculty and staff who have the images of horrified, frightened small faces seared into their imaginations. Or the parents of children who survived, burdened now with the “thank God not mine,” all while understanding the torment of the parents of the children who did not.

And that small community itself, stripped now of its innocence and the pretense that horrors did not happen there.

There is no sense to be made of this. I find the question, “how could this happen?” to be completely useless. The sad truth is that we live in a culture whose mental healthcare system is so neglected that something like this can happen. We live in a culture that so values the right to own any kind of gun that a person can obtain multiple weapons easier than they can get a driver’s license.

And the scale of those who pay for this cultural insanity is inordinately tipped toward our children.

And so we wake, as a nation, grief-stricken and keenly aware of our own powerlessness. We are powerless to protect our children.

As I write this morning, my house is full of sleeping 20-something boys. They were out together into the wee hours. As they left last night, happy to be together, they were arguing about who was to be the designated driver, with me echoing a nagging refrain in the background, my maternal heart newly reminded of the dangers. They would have a designated driver, but what about the other cars on the road when these boys return here at 3AM? There it is: the powerlessness.

And yet, our children must wander out into the world where all manner of horrors live. Mentally ill young men with easy access to guns. Drunk drivers. A misjudgment of height and ability, resulting in a tragic fall. A sudden, virulent disease.

Our impulse, in the face of this, is to DO something. Investigate. Blame. Make casseroles.
We busy ourselves and take what comfort we can in that activity.

But I really think the greatest question for all of us is how can I BE today? How can I be love today to the people I encounter? How to my children, my parents, my neighbors? How can I be mindfully loving to the person who checks my groceries at Kroger?

Last night, I watched the community of Newtown gather for vigils as they began the long journey of grieving all they had lost. I imagined a community drawing in to surround the families who lost their children and to help the traumatized survivors. There seemed to me an intention to love wherever they can.

What if we all choose to do that? Wherever we are. How can I be love today, in Nashville, or Boston, or Berlin? Wherever you are reading this—how can you be love to those you encounter today?

My heart tells me that if I begin where I am, love can make a difference. It’s the only thing that does.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Effervescent Queen

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of my dear friend Cynthia’s death. Cynthia was a busy, bubbly person, spreading love wherever she went. I called her “my effervescent queen” because of the buoyant quality about her. Even in the last hours of her life she was seeing the magic in the moment. It is horrible to witness the wasting death of cancer in a dearly loved one. Yet the essential Cynthia shone through.

Despite her effervescent nature, Cynthia’s life wasn’t all happiness. She had challenges and pain. Like all of us, she had childhood pain, which she grappled with as an adult. She wrestled with the grief that comes with infertility and other challenges as well. Her cancer brought physical pain and added layers to the grief and loss she carried.

Some of us are incapable of facing our cruel demons, yet Cynthia tackled it all, the emotional, physical, and spiritual pain of it. Through it she had this buoyancy of spirit which spread love and light to the people in her life. She radiated this internal liveliness, it was infectious, and helped all of us who were fortunate enough to journey along with her.

I write this because I miss her terribly, but also because I deeply believe this is possible for each one of us. We all have challenges, deep pain, and loss. It comes with the territory. Welcome to the human race, as I like to tell myself. And we have joy and grace available, in equal measure, at each moment. Yes, there is pain. Yes, there is joy.

It isn’t a one or the other proposition. We have all of it, at any given moment. The question isn’t one of either pain or of joy. The question is: will you say yes to whatever is? We have the opportunity to experience the fullness of it all. The joy, the sorrow, the loneliness, the quiet contentment, the regret, the sense of grace, the profound grief, the deep connections. They are all there. Now.

This is the image of Cynthia and her gift to me: she is saying yes to all of it. I’ve written about her before, and probably will again. Because she has this enduring quality about her. The gift of yes. Yes to life in all its pain and wonder.