Is Love Alive?

candle2After hearing about the school shootings in Connecticut, I tried to fight the lump in my throat, but it threatened to choke me if I didn’t release the sadness welling up inside.  I’ve never cried so hard for someone I didn’t know.

As a rule, I avoid news-viewing of this sort.  But this day I am fixated like the proverbial moth to a flame.  And I am singed, feeling the sting of another’s horror.

This blog post will not pretend it has answers.  Nor will it join in the cacophony of anger towards guns or politics or school systems or even God.  As it likes to do, this blog will remind us to pause long enough amidst the chaos – even if only for the blink of an eye – to glimpse a spec of clarity.

At the funeral of an eight-year old that I attended years ago, the priest offered a metaphor that has influenced every challenge I’ve faced thereafter.  He said that life, at times of tragedy, is like a pot of boiling water.  When we are plunged into it, two very different things can happen.  If we are like an egg, we will harden.  Our shell remains unharmed to the naked eye, but inside we react to the heat with hardening in the form of bitterness and anger.  In contrast, the same boiling water, to a carrot, has the opposite effect.  The carrot becomes soft, allowing itself to be stripped of its rigidity as it gives way to a new form.

Therein lies our only choice.  For we cannot escape the pot.  Not one of us will coast through life without taking our turn with loss.  Which will we be, egg or carrot?

When I lost a baby to the treacherous business of childbearing, I cracked, like the egg that couldn’t stand the heat.  At first I raged against life.  Then I abandoned it.  Time became irrelevant; joy non-existent.

One morning I lay awake in a familiar state of numbness and noticed that the darkness of the room and that of my soul blended together.   The void that was me was so vast, it had no boundaries.  All that had once defined me was gone.

Vaguely, I was aware of my curled form, head down, no more than a lump on the ground.  Out of nowhere, a voice commanded me, “Look up!”  When I did, I heard one more instruction, “Remember who you are.”  With that, rapid screen shots of my life flickered before me – distant, fleeting reminders of purpose.

This was the day I began my healing.   Like the lame man in the Bible who was told to get up and walk, God had reached down from Heaven and picked me up by the scruff of my neck like a cub.  ‘Enough,’ He seemed to say, and sent me on my way with a gentle nudge.

This is how I learned about grace.  When I began to examine the depths of my experience, I became privy to the great life lessons that seem to be reserved for the experience of tragedy.

I saw the courage and loyalty of friends who refused to let fear withhold their extension of love, even when it meant doing nothing but be present.  I saw the tears in their eyes and the heard the sadness in their voices as a reflective measure of my own sadness and it comforted me.

I learned the value of family – the ultimate crutch.  The ones I can curse to or curse at and still expect their love.  The ones who pick up the pieces long after most people think the puzzle is back together.

And I saw the resiliency in myself.  No matter how far I had fallen, I could always rise again.

In the face of loss, I found these reasons to have hope.  When I allowed myself to experience sadness for all its potential, it led me back to love.

This is what I know to be true:  that grace exists for all people.  That we are never abandoned.  That healing is always possible.

We, friends and strangers alike, will gather around this enormous loss trying desperately to fill the gaping wound in humanity.  We will pray and think and do, yet still the wound may refuse to close.  Life has its own plan, its own clock.  Sometimes all we can do is wait for grace to arrive.

This is my winter song.

December never felt so wrong,

Cause you’re not here where you belong;

Inside my arms.

Is love alive?

I’ll be your harvester of it

And send it out tonight

So we can start again

Is love alive?

-Sara Bareilles/Ingrid Michaelson

Saving Seven Lives

I’m drowning in thoughts of murder.  No, not  me.  I don’t want to murder anyone – today.  But it seems that plenty of people do.  Which makes me wonder, like the Black Eyed Peas do in their song, ‘Where Is the Love?’

I’ve been reading the Hunger Games trilogy in which murder is a main theme.  Then there’s the daily disturbing news coverage of murders like the one of the man who killed seven people.  Couple this with the re-telling of the Passion of Christ this Easter season in which the crowd shouts, “Crucify Him!” and you understand how I got to this unsettled place.  Still, I surprised even myself when I burst into tears at Mass.  My children, unaccustomed to Mom crying, giggled nervously and whispered to each other loudly enough to draw attention to my spontaneous unraveling.

An explanation was expected on the ride home.  But how to articulate my despair?  Is it wise to expose my children to my darkest thoughts?  Mother is supposed to be a beacon of hope and strength and comfort.  Yet, she is human and desires that her children witness that truth. 

So she begins, delicately, trusting that her children will rise to the challenge before them.  She tells them that she feels weak sometimes and powerless against the evil in the world.  And when she stands before God in His house and spills her heart out to Him, she feels like a child who needs to cry about what she can’t do and can’t have – like world peace and safety for everyone.  Mother chokes up again when she proclaims how unfair it is that a person can decide to kill seven people and just do it.  But another person, like Mother, can’t decide to save seven people .  It’s easier, it seems, to kill people – literally and figuratively – than it is to save them.

The children, desperate to patch up Mother’s wound as she has done so many times for them, offer their wisdom.  The son, usually silent, speaks first.  With his story, the son pulls the mother’s pain out of her in the same way that Androcles plucked a festering splinter from the lion.  Here is what he said:

“Once there was a boy who was walking home from school.  Some bullies gave him a hard time and all his books spilled out of his backpack.  Another boy saw this and came to his aid, picking up books and helping the boy up.  The Samaritan asked, ‘Why are you carrying so many books?’  The boy answered, ‘I cleaned out my locker because I had intended to kill myself today.  I’m sick of being bullied.  I thought no one cared about me.  But you helped me.  And now I know I was wrong.  Thank you.'”

By the end of her son’s story, Mother is crying again, but for a different reason.  She is humbled by her son’s wisdom and compassion.  She feels hope and joy in his story.  Fearing that Mother may have missed the point, the son explains, “You never know the effect that kindness has on people.  You’ve probably saved a lot of lives, Mom.”

…..

There are moments in life when my heart fills so unexpectedly and so completely that I wonder how it remains contained in my chest.  The heart that only moments before was shriveling in despair, is renewed by an extended hand of compassion.  In an instant, I am transformed like the Grinch on Christmas morning: 

And what happened then?  Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.  And then the true meaning of Christmas came through and the Grinch found the strength of ten Grinches plus two!

A little love from little beings brings big love to big beings.  Beautiful.

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