- Spiritual Reflections
- Family Quest
- What’s Happening
A man sits on the rubble—
not just in the rubble, but on the pile
of what remains. No people
in the bombed-out houses.
No dogs. No birds. Just ragged hunks
of concrete and loss. And on his perch
he is playing an instrument constructed
of what is left—an olive oil can, a broom handle,
a bowed stick and strings. It sounds
exactly as it is supposed to sound.
The instrument cries, but the man sings.
Because sometimes loss is deeper than tears.
Because sometimes grief is resistance.
Because, somewhere down the very long road,
music is stronger than bombs.
Dedicated to S.K.
VIDEO: “ت ناوازەیە” by Xendan
PHOTO: “Rubble litters the street in the main souk or market area of Maraat al-Numan, Syria” by Freedom House is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Maybe we could just sit down and cry together first. In the presence of Black rage. In the presence of white shame. In the presence of grief and despair and the overwhelming knowledge that white men with guns just keep killing people. In the devastating remembrance that this is not the first time that a white man with a gun has chosen a place of worship as the most devastating possible place to exact horrific violence.
We need to say out loud that this was another act of violent white supremacy, not just a disturbed individual. It matters that we point out that, as with almost every instance of mass violence, it was a man who committed this atrocity, with a man’s sense of entitlement to assert his will at whatever cost to those around him. We need to say out loud that once again gun violence has cost innocent people their lives, that while a man bent on doing damage with a knife can certainly hurt people, guns kill people far more rapidly and efficiently than anything else.
And then we need to sit with the fact that this horrific act was committed in a church. That it wasn’t random that the killer chose the AME church that has been such a force for Black empowerment and leadership development. That it wasn’t random that violence was perpetrated in a temple of peace. That this man sat and prayed with his victims for an hour before he attacked, and God did nothing to stop him. That the only way that God will ever stop the violence—not just the brutality of mass shootings, but also the daily violence of racism in all its massive and tiny iterations—is if we are committed, individually and collectively, to being God’s voice, God’s hands, God’s pain and rage, God’s impulse toward love and justice.
There is so much to be done, so many rents in the fabric of our common life that we can only hope are possible to stitch or patch together. There is so much that each of us is called to do. But maybe first we could just sit down together for a little while and cry.
Each and every person on this earth has experienced loss. We may think when grief comes over us that we are alone in our mourning, that the smiling chatty folks around us don’t know…but of course they do. Being alive in this mortal world means knowing loss.
And grief—grief is the process by which we heal those holes ripped in our life through relocation, through divorce, through death. We mammals are designed to feel acutely the loss of one we love; it is a survival mechanism that binds parent to child, that binds together family group and tribe. The more we bring people into our hearts, the deeper the hole they leave if they are taken from us.
In writing about her mother’s death, Meghan O’Rourke suggests, “A mother is a story with no beginning.” This is because a mother was always there—from that very first moment of your creation in her body. She’s a given, a part of the fabric of your story from day one.
In my mom’s case, her story having no beginning seems especially true. She was adopted—and never wanted to know anything about her birth parents. So her beginnings were shrouded in mystery. No one knew the story, not even her.
In August, 1978 I chaired a week-long seminar on planetary survival issues. College professors and administrators had prepared papers to deliver on themes ranging from the water crisis to environmental effects of nuclear technology.
As we convened, I took time to acknowledge that the topic we were addressing was different from any other, that it touched each of us in a profoundly personal way. I suggested that we introduce ourselves by sharing an incident or image of how it had touched us.
It was not a surprise when my mother died. Survival rates for ovarian cancer are not high, and hers was in stage four by the time it was diagnosed. Against those odds, she lived three years with a high quality of life.
Finally, when the experimental treatments could not stave it off any longer, she refused any more chemo and radiation, quit eating, and slowly let go.
One way of defining religion might be as a place for talking about things that are hard to talk about. What does my life mean? Who or what is in charge? Where did everything come from? What do I owe to other people? What is good enough? How am I connected to the other beings of the planet as well as the other people? Why do bad things happen?
Quest for Meaning is a program of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF), a Unitarian Universalist congregation without walls. Join our community to cultivate wonder, imagination, and the courage to act.
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