We often celebrate the lives of famous men and women. They make the news because they shake someone’s hand, or because they say something a lot of people agree with. They stand, fight, or go to prison for something they believe in. We laud them – and often times we afford them even more praise upon their dying than we did when they were living.
But some events are pivotal, life-changing, gut-wrenching … and we don’t remember separate individuals as much as we represent these moments in a more collective way. Saturday is the first anniversary of such an event. We will remember that twenty eight people had life taken from them, suddenly and violently. The shooter had killed his mother just prior to arriving at the school, and took his own life as first responders arrived. While we can name a pope, a statesman, a president, it is much less likely that we can remember even one name of those who died on December 14 a year ago.
Instead of individuals, we will think of families and the tears that have been shed. We’ll think of colleagues who still can’t believe the one who taught across the hall from them is no more. Even in the midst of our celebrating this Christmas, there is a good chance somewhere in our psyche we will feel the pain of a deep wound … and we will wonder. To paraphrase, not much can be remembered of what was said that day; but it will be a very long time before we forget those who died that day. The “innocents”. And isn’t it true that they are part of the Christmas story? A nation with a strong undercurrent of self-destructive habits, we reel from the violence around us, and recoil from the hatred within us. But we can’t seem to escape it. We haven’t been able to “politic” our way out of it, or govern away the stains of blood.
A priest was interviewed today on the radio. He officiated at 8 of the funerals of the victims, and as he spoke, his voice broke and he apologized for his tears. He said he believes in God like never before; but his trust in human beings has been badly bruised. He grieves. I was momentarily spellbound as I listened to him – the silences were as weighty as the words. I felt myself grieving with him.
Christmas is less than two weeks away. A birthing. And very soon, light will begin to return to our hemisphere as the days grow longer. There is much to rejoice over. But on the day after tomorrow, grief will blanket a community in Connecticut called “Newtown”. They’ve been asked to be left alone. Some things don’t benefit from celebrity. Sometimes, pain has to be sheltered; wounds have to be kept hidden. Sometimes crying is most healing when done into a pillow where no one can see.
People will weep alone. But, like Mary who pondered, and Rachel who would not be comforted, many others will ponder as well. Grief pokes holes into our joy – especially if that joy is heartfelt and true. Sacred texts promise us that joy comes. It must come. But I do believe, for day after tomorrow, there will be grief.