“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