The faith tradition(s) that I follow allows me a certain acceptance of uncertainty and “living the questions,” as the famous poem by Rilke puts it. Grappling, wondering, ruminating, and questioning are all part of the journey for me—as is the case for many of us.
Yet when a tragedy occurs, so close to home as it did in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday, people want answers. I want answers. I want to explain the situation—“well, it has to do with the isolation of our communities,” or “it all goes back to the value placed on the second amendment in this country,” or “it’s because of the unavailability of good mental health services,” and so on. Those three statements offer some fleeting feeling of understanding, and hopefully, ground us in some places to put our energy. But there is no one explanation, no one answer.
And most of us feel some combination of two things that come from being exposed to overwhelming events: numb-struck grief and helplessness. We are numb-struck to the effect that we are in shock and may not be “close” enough to feel our grief directly. We are helpless because there is nothing we can do to change what has already happened.
But what occurs to me is this—maybe those two feelings are the greatest assets we have in this historical, personal, communal moment. They bring a clarity that is inaccessible most of the time. The devastating truth is, children die every day—and not just from starvation or poverty. They die in gun fire in the inner city. They die in drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.But unless we are reminded of these facts by being faced with them squarely in the face, we live in relationship with the everyday equivocations of politics, and we live “through a glass darkly” as St. Paul puts it.
So as we “live the questions,”we can also seize this moment in which we feel grief stricken and helpless to assert what we do know to be true, as it is more crystal clear, really, than ever.The Buddhist practice of staying in the moment to observe the morass of our overwhelmed responses—including numbness—is profoundly apropos here.
Here is what I know to be true, in the midst of my numb-struck grief and helplessness:
We live in an inscrutable universe. There is not a reason for everything.
No child should ever die before reaching adulthood. Even more to the point, no child should ever die in the civilized world from causes that derive from adults’ need to feel safe, gain revenge, or justify their violent influences. We live in a world permeated by the “myth of redemptive violence”—the idea that striking out, either in offense or defense, is a human ideal to be validated and given extra-ordinary value.
I know those two things. We live in an inscrutable universe, where the unthinkable happens more than we care to believe. There is not a reason for everything, but we can make a reason from everything. A reason to deepen our convictions, question the status quo, look deeply at ourselves.
In other words—in grief and helplessness—the veil is lifted from our eyes. There are some certainties: There is nothing about the death of children that can be contested, argued over, or dissected.So we don’t have answers, but we do have certainty.
Let us rest in this certainty for a moment.
Let it inform our convictions—whether they be about gun control, mental health services, or what the deeply held value of “individual freedom” in the US really means.
Lets us rest in the certainty we have and see where it brings us.