A Time to Mourn


I haven’t posted here in awhile, my April schedule being incredibly busy. I’ve had places to go and more than enough to do. Monday’s bombings in Boston, however, called me, however briefly, out of my stale self-absorption. When events like this happen – at least when they happen to Americans – public officials and news industry personalities often call them “tragedies,” a term with classical associations that suggests something edifying might be found within. Soon enough, such events acquire a shorthand title, often recalling a location, such as “Columbine,” or “Newtown,” or a date, like “9/11.” People who had no direct connection to what transpired remember where they were when they heard the news. Many draw morals or warnings in the remembered events and find it necessary to share them. All too often, those morals curiously resemble our own thoughts, sentiments, and assumptions, however reconfigured in the latest sadness. And then, life happens, schedules take over, and all but the directly suffering move on.

I could, right now, present my case that events in Boston invite us to remember our perpetual vulnerability and to abandon the strangely resilient myth of American exceptionalism. I could do that, but that would be too much like a sermon, and does nothing for those who are grieving today. Finding morals in so-called tragedies may have a place, but the effort looks too much like theodicy for my comfort.

Theodicy, from the Greek words for “God’s justice,” shouldn’t be entirely dismissed as a bad idea, if for no other reason than Milton wrote Paradise Lost, to “justifie the wayes of God to men.” But theodicies, whether “religious,” such as Milton’s or Leibniz’s, or “secular,” such as Nietzsche’s or Dawkins’s, strike me – even in their complexity – as too much in a hurry to make their point, indifferent – even if unintentionally – to the mystery of suffering. Whether one willingly participates in the life of God or sees the Universe as the grand interplay of random material forces, suffering remains a mystery to be encountered, not a puzzle to be solved. Pretending otherwise is more than a waste of time; it diminishes those living in the heart of that dark mystery.

So when I read these words, written by my friend and mentor, Leslie Leyland Fields, I found myself again in her debt. She writes what I wish I could, a reminder to sermonizers of all stripes to offer bread, not stones, to those who would hear or read our words. One doesn’t need a misused Bible to kill or maim. All it takes is an ideology: science, politics, or “the helping professions” provide ammunition quite nicely. And none of this helps those who have lost their health, their limbs, or their children.

There will be time for justice and for policy. For most of us, however, now is the time to speak little, share what bread we have, and grieve.