“Did you see this, Mom?” Priscilla asked, holding up her iPod on which was displayed an Instagram photo of Victoria Soto, the 27-year-old teacher gunned down in Newtown Connecticut on Friday. We’d talked about the shooting earlier in the afternoon but it had taken awhile for the horror to sink in. There were tears in my daughter’s eyes that turned into sobs when I pulled her into my arms. “She hid those little children,” Priscilla whimpered, “and he killed her.”
“What a brave and amazing teacher Victoria was,” I told my eleven-year-old, over the lump in my own throat. “I know her family is devastated but they must also be so, so proud of her.“
That is what I whispered reassuringly into her ear while stroking her hair, but what I thought was, “What the hell is going on here in this crazy, unstable world?!!! This is ludicrous!”
We prayed that night for the murder victims and their families, and for the first responders burdened forever now by the unshakable mental images of that unthinkableness. We prayed for the courage to proceed without any guarantees, any justifications, any answers. “In honor of those sweet, slain children, Dear God help us to defy evil with light and love and goodness!,” I begged of Christ.
It being the case that we are absolutely free as human beings to create, destroy, cower in the corner, or get our games faces on and stand up boldly, even in the face of death, to hatred and despair, I’ve been rethinking what I want to communicate to my children about moving forward after, and amidst, tragedy. “Yes, weep!” I’ve decided to tell them, “weep and wail for the suffering that is. But stand your ground! I cannot promise you a long and sheltered life, only that salvation trumps absolutely everything. And that salvation demands from us absolutely everything, most especially our limited reasoning and temporally minded ideals.
Don’t fixate on the “what-ifs” or trying to make sense of it all, just get up and DO, give, serve, pray, forgive, apologize, be compassionate, receive the Eucharist and be tenacious in your faith until this chapter of your eternal existence closes and the Greater Reality of God’s Kingdom finally swallows you up and makes you whole. More than comfort and ease, I long for you growth and redemption.” Lord Have Mercy! Lord Have Mercy On Us All!
Death is the touchstone of our attitude to life. People who are afraid of death are afraid of life. It is impossible not to be afraid of life with all its complexity and dangers if one is afraid of death. This means that to solve the problem of death is not a luxury. If we are afraid of death we will never be prepared to take ultimate risks; we will spend our life in a cowardly, careful and timid manner. It is only if we can face death, make sense of it, determine its place and our place in regard to it that we will be able to live in a fearless way and to the fullness of our ability. Too often we wait until the end of our life to face death, whereas we would have lived quite differently if only we had faced death at the outset.
- Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
Oh the mornings, they’ve become so sludgy and drudgy, drowsy and gray. My alarm went off at 6:15 am; I groaned aloud at the jolting disruption to my warm and cozy sleep. The chill to my bones set in immediately as I begrudgingly pulled back the covers. Getothecoffeegettothecoffeegetothecoffee.
Cold weather and sunless skies zap my energy, lessen my productivity, make me snacky for snack foods. “Pull on your elastic waist sweatpants!” winter calls to me, ”and settle into yourself.”
I need a plan.
Last night, I contacted a few friends whose kids go to the same school mine do – a school with hiking trails in its backyard. “Would anyone be interested in taking a walk with me right after drop-off,” I asked. Two said “yes” so I laced on my hiking boots. We met in the parking lot where one of those said friends had to cancel due to the plague-ish like flu hitting our community fast and hard. The other friend and I wished her and her family well then headed on into the quiet woods to breath in some crisp and invigorating fresh air.
This friend and I talked about important things, significant things, such as motherhood, simplicity, and finding fulfillment in making connections with the flesh and blood human beings right in front of us. We talked while quite literally getting lost in the nature I’ve driven past who knows how many times without ever actually tasting of it. And it was very nice and peaceful – a refueling way to set the tone for a brand new day.
People and creation over the all-consumingness of iPhones, the lofty ideals of Pinterest, overstuffed agendas and doomsdayish news reports.
I am boldly starting here. I will think, and pray, before mindlessly reacting or becoming sucked into the vortex of information/e-mail/procrastination overload. Heaven help me live like I am dying, and love like I am dying, ridding my existence of superfluous stressors and petty excuses for staying ever discontent and self-absorbed.
“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.
(pg.99, “The Body and the Earth”)”
― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
There’s been a shut down in this house of all electronic devices for those ages 12 through 14 until some greater responsibility can be developed in key areas …blah..blah…blah. All that to say, I’ve enjoyed the increase in book reading around here.
I’d been craving anyway a little more boredom for my man child, and wishing for him pockets of still time un-hijacked by mindless distractions. I know, I know too well how addictingly soothing it is to find rest from restlessness in fast and bright and ever-evolving technology. Teaching balance in this area to our tech-saavy children is one heck of an uphill battle for this generation of parents. So yes, I’m secretly relieved that it had to come to this: a cold turkey approach to surrendering for a season a strong aversion to being all alone with one’s thoughts. It’s been a wake up call for all of us.
When the neighborhood boys came over this afternoon, football in hand, right in the middle of homework, right before dark, I shooed my son out the door. “Go!” I said, “Go outside and play, tackle, get muddy! Engage in the very real (as opposed to virtual) world all around you. You can finish your math when you get back in.”
I could hear them laughing and trash talking while I stood at the sink. It was music to my ears – music nostalgic and stirring. More than anything I desire for my children to pay attention to the people, mysteries, opportunities right in front of them, and to act, throwing caution and convenience to the wind, when invited by that still small voice to “come and see.”
Because we’d each taken more than our fair share of missteps in the past week, in the car on the way to school the kids and I thanked God for new mornings – for do-overs. Help us to use our time wisely, I prayed aloud on behalf of all of us.
I’ve found myself coming down hardest lately on the faults I see in my kids that most mirror my own. Understanding all too well the internal battle to stay on task and overcome the urge to give way to impulses, I tend to lose my calm and collectedness when attempting to lecture them out of the same traps I still fall into… all. the. time. I feel guilty for not being a perfect prototype of perfect perfection, but this is stupid quite obviously. That kind of guilt – those kind of lofty expectations only hurt my family.
I need to think carefully about the message I live for them, make sure it jives with my world view of there being more to working, being, loving, failing, interacting with one’s neighbor than what meets the mortal eye. “Success,” in light of salvation, has a lot more to do with resiliency than the mastering of our weaknesses.
See, I totally mess up too, I want my sons and daughters to know, but I will never stop trying to be a little more disciplined (charitable, careful with my words, patient) every minute of every day until I die. DO NOT STOP TRYING, my darlings, and do not despair of your shortcomings; God is ever, ever, ever so merciful to the meek and humble. Woe to us, however, if we forget our own vulnerabilities and look down on another for struggling. Don’t screw around with pride – it’s a slippery, hellish, no-good slope to nowhere good. If I teach you nothing else at all, let it be this!
My heart is full of you this afternoon. Forgive me for talking, talking, talking harshly about change instead of falling on my knees to offer you up to Christ, and becoming a better (quieter) example of industriousness and restraint.
For all of our sakes, I now will dust myself off and begin again.
Abba Moses asked Abba Sylvanus, “Can a person lay a new foundation every day?” The old man replied, “If you work hard, you can lay a new foundation every moment.”