Monday, September 11, 2006

Reflections, Five Years After

It's seemed to me, lately, that life is just very...tenuous. Steve Irwin, of all people, brought that home last week by dying in such a freakish way, even for a man who spent his life taking risks. My good friend from graduate school, Darcy Wakefield, shocked and saddened us all when she died last winter, a few years after having been diagnosed with ALS.

These were young people. Darcy was in her thirties. Steve Irwin was 44.

In another example of just how fragile life is, a very close friend of mine is reeling from the shock and anguish of her mother's recent diagnosis (ALS, again).

And just yesterday, we got word that the wife of a friend had been killed in a car accident and their young son - just a couple of weeks older than my own son - had sustained a brain injury and is in critical condition.

I think those of us who are lucky enough to have long periods of time in our lives that go by without significant misfortune forget that, all around us, there is loss and suffering. And then, it seems to hit all at once, and we realize that life is not the pleasant and beautiful thing we thought it was; it is hard and cruel and brutal and painful and unforgiving and fleeting.

When the planes hit the towers, I was one of those who obsessively watched the news coverage, sleepless and shaking. I could not imagine the suffering, and I could not comprehend that so many others were in constant pain while I went about my daily life, shopping, doing my laundry, writing my dissertation. I would forget for a moment and laugh at something silly, and then immediately catch myself and feel guilty.

When I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 and witnessed those injured and killed in the war - especially the children - it was the same. I was haunted by these images from the screen and by others I imagined. I felt as if those were my children, and I wept in the theater.

It is like that when people close to you are grieving. My heart breaks along with theirs. Yet, I can escape. I can forget for a moment. I can hug my family and feel safe.

We have all heard about the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). What's missing there is panic. When I think about what my friend who lost his wife must be going through, my throat closes up, my stomach clenches, and I want to tear out my hair. The overwhelming loss is incomprehensible and our bodies cannot absorb the shock all at once.

What I am learning from being on the edges of these sorrows is that it is the escaping, periodically, that allows me to function. I can reach out and allow myself to feel pain with those who are suffering only ecause I can also step back to regroup. And when I am the one suffering, it is those around me who are able to move back and forth from my pain to their moments of rest that allow them to comfort me.

There is no reason in tragedy. I don't believe in a God who takes a mother away from a four-year-old child or who traps someone's daughter/father/brother/lover in a burning building - and I wouldn't *want* to believe in such a God, anyway. But I do believe that the kind of love that we sometimes show each other in the face of such tragedies is holy.

And that's it. Five years later, this is what resonates with me - not why "they" hate "us," or what it means to feel safe, or who is to blame, but that we have to comfort each other by sharing our suffering, by loving each other enough to feel each other's pain.

That is where I see God in all of this. And while that's not enough right now, it's not a small thing.

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