Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Paradox in tragedy: It isn't enough, and it is enough

I haven't been able yet to write, to process my thoughts on the horrific school shooting that ended the lives of 20 children and 6 teachers.  I haven't even dug deeply into blog posts, or sought out people who are my spiritual guides for some semblance of understanding or peace. Instead, I allowed myself to be overcome by grief whenever it arose, thinking of the children, of their terror, of each family and community and their great loss, of the first responders who will need PTSD counseling to deal with witnessing the aftermath.  I signed some petitions for better gun control and mental healthcare, and read some discussions of why our society might be prone to this particular type of violence.

Then, looking at a friend's computer, I saw the homepage for "On Being." A peaceful photo accompanied the segment title, "Presence in the Wild," and I knew I wanted to listen to the piece. 


Once I started, I realized both that it was a rebroadcast from 2008, and that it was uncannily timely, posted just one day before the massacre in Connecticut. Pushing pause, I looked at the site's blog, to discover editor Trent Gilliss's notes on choosing the broadcast to fill a gap.

“About a week ago, we had a gap in our schedule and I suggested rebroadcasting our interview with Kate Braestrup, a UU* chaplain who works with Maine’s game wardens on search-and-rescue missions and such events. She also lost a husband early in her life. For some, it seemed counter-intuitive to put a show on about death, loss, and grief during this festive time of year. But we know that the holidays can be a lonely time of despair, depression, and loss for many; I hoped our program could meet those people suffering in some minor way — and remind all of us of the gift of grace and happiness during this season.

“I never could’ve envisioned (nor wanted to) this horrifying scenario before us. And so I worried about the programming decision.

“Well, my beloved wife Shelley and I just finished listening to the production on MPR News (yes, believe it or not, on the radio). Kate Braestrup’s stories and insights on love, death, and loss are profound — and more relevant than I could have ever imagined. It’s wise people like her who are most needed during our country’s darkest hours and brightest holidays. Bella and I cried a little; we danced.

“This show doesn’t make sense of the tragedy in Connecticut; nothing can. But, Kate Braestrup offers a framing for how to think about love and tragedy, how we live forward. If you’re looking for something to listen to with your loved ones, listen to this show. And, if you do, please write me and share your thoughts. It would mean a lot to me: tgilliss@onbeing.org or @trentgilliss.

From "Presence in the Wild"
(17:50)  “I don’t look for God, or God’s work, in magic, or in tricks, or in saying, ‘this is what I want,’ and then I get it. I look for God’s work, always, in how people love each other, in just the acts of love that I see around me. [In her book, Here if You Need Me, Braestrup tells the story of a young woman who was abducted, raped, murdered and left in the woods.]

“So this event tested that, for me. In general, I don’t get involved with a lot of sexual predators and murderers. I’m much more likely to be dealing with accidents or people who have done something stupid, or got drunk and did something stupid, but they weren’t actively malicious. So, to look for where love was, in this situation, the very obvious place to look would be in the hearts and the hands of the guys did their best to find her, to make things right for her, and her family. With all the limitation in that … that they couldn’t, in fact, fix it. Actually, that they are willing to go and respond to these things when they can’t fix it, is actually, in some ways, the most beautiful thing I see. It’s one thing to get to be Superman, right, you swoop in, save the day, and it’s very satisfying when that happens. I love it, when they find the kid … and bring him out alive. But, what’s amazing to me is that these guys [police officers, game wardens] are willing to go … and do these things that are excruciatingly painful, and that don’t fix, or undo, the harm and the evil that they see.

"… Anna Love was the primary detective on the case … during the case, would pop into the Lieutenant’s office to pump breast milk for her baby, at home with her husband …. There are these paradoxes, that you can’t fix or make them fit together, you can’t shave away the edges so that they ‘match.’ You just have to let them sit there, as separate things. On one hand, you had this terrible event that was not right, was not just, was cruel on every level, harmful and hurtful and terrible. And on the other hand, you had all of these guys responding, all of these guys motivated by love. One of them named Anna Love, a breastfeeding mother. It’s not as if all of that fixes Christina’s death, it doesn’t. It’s just that they both exist in the same time, in the same space, which, I guess, it isn’t enough, and it is enough.”

Listen to the full broadcast here to hear more about the “resurrection of love beside the unchanged fact of death.”

*(Kate Braestrup's definition of Unitarian Universalism: "at its best is a way of looking at religious questions without requiring that the answer be found for everybody, without requiring that your answer be imposed on everybody else. There's a humble acceptance that I am not God. I am not the arbiter of these things, that the best I can be is a window through which the person that I'm with can get a glimpse of something, and I can only do that by being as completely loving to them as I can be, whoever they are and wherever they are.")

(Photo from On Being.)

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