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on daily grief-work
I was at my desk yesterday when my friend Tara texted me saying she was heartbroken. I had been so engrossed in my work that I didn’t know what she was talking about until I clicked over to a news feed, and I saw it. Children, teacher, school, murder. Prayers and thoughts. Thoughts and prayers. I have, like many of us, become inured to mass shootings; Americans have had to become grief resistant, and impervious to relentless sorrow; that in itself is a dangerous place to be. The human heart is not meant to withstand this.
First Buffalo. Then Texas. I put my head on my desk and I sobbed.
Many of you do not know: I live in Newtown, Connecticut. On the day of our personal tragedy in 2012, I was working in Manhattan. Susan and I had just stepped off the train at Grand Central, and went to our jobs: she on the west side, me on the east. I sat down in my desk chair and my phone rang. My neighbor was calling. Come home. Get on the next train.
The stories: my friend and local butcher Steve’s wife was the only person in the school office not shot, because the person in front of her fell back onto her. My neighbor’s brother-in-law was a first responder, a local policeman, who entered the school. My friend, a wrestling coach, lost most of his pee-wee team, all little boys. Our local RC church held funerals every day for what seemed to be weeks. I remember being stuck in traffic on the street outside the parish house and seeing a very tiny casket being loaded into a hearse; I pulled into a gas station and vomited.
I won’t go down the I have friends who are hunters road, even though I do. This is not about the right to hunt, or to go sport-shooting, although I don’t do either. This is about being pro-life — truly, actually pro-life — and protecting the rights of little children to grow into adults. To get up in the morning, have their Fruit Loops, knock over their glass of milk for the umpteenth time, get yelled at for forgetting their homework yet again, get on the school bus with their friends, learn, and come home for dinner.
Americans have had to become grief resistant, and impervious to relentless sorrow—
It is a terrifying thing to touch a grief so palpable that it has an actual smell. To hold it up to the light like a prism. To carry it in your pocket with your car keys and your wallet. But to weep and wail and mourn is not the American way. We just get up the morning after a mass shooting, and we do it all over again.
Grief is subversive, undermining the quiet agreement to behave and be in control of our emotions. It is an act of protest that declares our refusal to live numb and small. There is something feral about grief, something essentially outside the ordained and sanctioned behaviors of our culture. Because of that, grief is necessary to the vitality of the soul, writes Francis Weller in The Wild Edge of Sorrow.
I wish you peace and strength and the power to wail and roar and work for the safety of all of our children.