On December 16th, two days after the horror of the Sandy Hook shooting, I took a fall while away from home. Some very kind folks picked me up from the pavement, and the good monks at the monastery put me up for the night. I drove back north the following day, jaw set in determination against the pain of what turned out to be a broken arm.
In the following days of forced inactivity, I noticed on Facebook that a friend had broken her collarbone. Another, his ankle. Another, her wrists. Suddenly there seem to be gravity vortices everywhere. A bronchial thing is going around, too, a virulent strain that lasts for weeks. Many of the people I know are sick, coughing, sniffling, wheezing. Others have been felled by a stomach bug. And I read last night that there are already a record number of flu cases reported.
I am not a doctor, and I'm not a scientist and I can't prove what I am about to say. But I have a feeling about all this. I believe that, because of that happened to those children, our collective heart broke, is broken, and with God-given wisdom, our bodies have refused to continue with "business as usual".
Sometimes the show cannot, must not, go on.
Many religious and cultural traditions allow (or even require) the mourner to step away from chronological time for a set period. The Jewish custom of sitting shiva comes to mind, as does the true Irish wake. Both practices – and I know there are countless others – surround the mourners with community, helping hands, and memory keepers.
I pray that those who lost their loved ones, their precious jewels, the light of their lives, had such rituals and help. I am sure they did, at least in the immediate days and weeks. But the rest of us, gut-punched yet not killed, may not have taken full stock of the personal damage. Loosed from traditions of faith or ethnic origin, as many now are,
we try to go on as if, like Shane, we can handle everything on our
own. I think the lone hero is a particularly American vision and ideal. We feel empathy with and sympathy for the parents, the teachers, the children of those who were killed, without recognizing the magnitude of our own wounding. Falling down or being taken ill can be explained by ice on a step, germs in the air. And yet, I am certain there is more: the contagion of grief, inhaled. The heart so heavy that trying to lift it alone makes you stumble.
There have been several shootings and other large tragedies since then, and small ones beyond counting, as there always are. "Blows upon a bruise", as Evelyn Waugh once wrote. There is nothing we can do to prevent all such events. But we need to consider, thoughtfully, prayerfully (if we are of that mind) what we can do. And to truly accept the notion that no one of us can carry these burdens alone.