Tending the Temple

Grieving The Tragedy

This evening I was prepared to post my belated reflection on the scripture readings from the past several Sundays, but as I was doing yard work while the sun began to set, my mind started swirling about the tragic shooting in Colorado, and I felt compelled to write about that.

I don’t want to be writing about it. There are plenty of would-be pundits and philosophers out there doing it, and I really don’t want to be one of them. As if I could add anything of use to the cacophony of voices who want to make a statement. As if I know anything about such tragedy, such loss, such needless, senseless suffering.

I know this much – that it is ludicrous to attempt to understand or attempt to explain “why” such things happen, even from a spiritual perspective. And platitudes about “God’s will” are at best extremely insensitive and at worst do grave harm, sometimes to those whose pain is already unbearable.

It seems to me the only sane response to such insane violence is to grieve.

Some of us will grieve by denying there could possibly be a God. I don’t judge that. I think it’s a completely understandable response to any kind of suffering, especially senseless suffering.

Most of us will be angry. Angry at God for allowing it, or for appearing “selective” in deciding who lives and dies. Angry at the shooter. Anger at the media for sensationalizing it. Angry at whoever else may be to blame. Aside from the initial report of the shooting, I deliberately have not read any other accounts of the event or details about the man who carried out this awful deed, because I don’t want to know his religious or philosophical or political or psychological background. I don’t want to know who might have let him slip through the cracks. I don’t want to know how his family of origin may have contributed to his insanity. I don’t really want someone to blame. I have enough anger without that, and I don’t want to stay stuck there.

Initially I felt anger at people who took the opportunity to talk about gun control and gun rights. Alternating posts for and against flooded my Facebook newsfeed, some predictable, some very well written. And yet my gut response was, how dare they? How dare they use this senseless tragedy as a platform for their opposing agendas? Then I realized, it’s just another stage in the grief process. Bargaining.

If only people didn’t have such easy access to assault weapons and ammunition. If only people had the right to carry concealed weapons to protect themselves. Both sides are attempts at trying to manipulate and control the uncontrollable evil with which we live. “If onlys” are part of the process, but they will not bring us closure no matter how hard we work for them. They will not take away the pain. If anything, they keep us locked in pain. There will be a time for action, but not when we’re bargaining with evil, because there is no bargaining with evil. Action before acceptance is premature and ultimately futile, and more often than not, it leads to even more evil. If we still believe we can control evil, we have not found acceptance yet.

Some of us will be depressed. I think a better word is overwhelmed – at our powerlessness as fragile human beings, at the seeming “bigness” of evil, at all of the swirling emotions that seem to come out of nowhere when we least expect it, like when we’re pulling weeds on a summer evening. Guilt, shame, sadness, and fear mixed with gratitude and hope, which leads to confusion.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who invented these five “stages” of grieving has this to say about acceptance at www.grief.com:

“Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case . . . This stage is about accepting . . . that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually . . . we learn to live with it.”

We learn to live. It angers me that the gift of grief (if I’m willing to walk through it) is that I will learn to live. Can’t we learn to live some other way? Yes. There are many ways to learn to live. There are also many sufferings to grieve. Grieving, whether it’s in the wake of the tragedy in Colorado, or in the wake of my own private losses, is not something I have to do. It’s something I get to do. And if it teaches me to live, then it is my own humble victory over evil.


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