. . . a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
-- Isaiah 53:3 (KJV)
I have my share of joys and contentments, augmented by mirth and when necessary by the healing power of sarcasm. But I have become acquainted with grief. Not my own: I have my griefs, but am not acquainted with them. I walk among the sorrows of others. It’s my job. I am a servant of those who suffer, and I am most helpful when I dare to walk a few steps in their path of suffering.
Some pains can be relieved by pills and patches, therapies and disciplines. Sometimes the price of that relief is too great to bear. Some pains simply cannot be relieved. And some should not be.
Grief is prefigured in every love. Great grief, like great love, changes us forever – there is no going back from it. Grief persists because we fear that if we lose it we will lose the love. Grief’s resolution is not termination but transformation.
“A long time I have lived with you,” wrote Nancy Woods, “And now we must be going separately to be together.” As grief resolves, the relationship changes. I remember that my life lies before me each morning and there is something yet to do, a chance that would not be mine if I had not loved and lost. In the joy of creation we sing the sad song of what is still with us if we keep singing. That’s why we love sad songs, and sing them with such happy tears.
This is what my people mean when in grief, or in the presence of grief, they say, “Everything happens for a reason.” They say it because they cannot see the reason, and are angry with God. Why? Why did You do this, why did You let this happen to him, to me? It doesn’t make sense.
It never will “make sense.” The question why will never get its answer. But when we come back to life, singing the sad song of love and loss, we’ll stop asking. When we feel the love and pain as a condition of life, we’ll lose our anger. The “reason” for which it “happened” is nothing more than this – that we are here today doing this, laughing and weeping as we go.
It’s a hell of a way to learn. But it’s the only way we learn the important things.
When I came to this city nine years ago, Grand Central Station was full of billboards. “Have you seen my husband? my son? my sister? my brother? my girlfriend?” Photos, names and phone numbers to call if you sighted them. There was hope that those still “missing” would return. In almost three thousand cases, they did not.
How easily the grief of mass murder turns political! Now some of our finest politicians (may my sarcasm heal them) have decided to mine it for votes. The falsely labeled “Ground Zero Mosque” will be invisible from Ground Zero, but shameless and power-seeking celebrities claim that it will dominate the landscape, apparently terrorizing the 1776-foot Freedom Tower soon to be built there. Such claims are, purely and simply, lies. Officials of any agency or party who fail to denounce them, and to denounce the liars, are complicit in xenophobia. No deals or compromises should be made with those who depend on lies, and who exploit the grief of wounded Americans, to gain wealth and power. No respect should be paid. Harry Reid, you disappoint me.
To my grieving fellow citizens I say, beware! What begins in a lie ends in death. If you could expel all Muslims from Lower Manhattan, from Manhattan itself, from New York City, from the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, from the United States of America – if you did all this, your loved ones would still be dead. That’s the awful truth. Life can only begin in truth.
I take deep concern for the security of my city and my country. My daughter and I go into the subways of New York thirty times a week. The office I report to is almost as close to Ground Zero on the south as Park 51 is on the north. If acts of war are committed again, I am on the front lines. But this I know – the surest way to turn mosques into terror factories is to begin expelling the Muslims.
Life is a dangerous place. Though I seem to be in good health, this could be my last post. No cult of vengeance can spare us, or those we love, from mortality. That’s why living requires courage. We get up each morning to this day’s work, knowing that there are no guarantees of success or survival, no assurance even that we have chosen the right direction, no certainty that we will not mourn tomorrow for the deeds we did today.
Congratulations, said Yeshua, to those who mourn, for they are to be comforted. But this is hard work. Comfort only comes as love and loss are incorporated into new life. Anger is natural, but it is not the cure. It is not comfort. Leaders who divert grieving people from this work with a snake-oil called rage are – well, the Reverend Daffy Duck would say, “You’re dethpicable.”