Ecclesiastes 7:4a “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning…”
I recently came home from a great vacation. I’m generally a homebody so a week away requires something akin to atmospheric re-entry for me. Honestly, I just had a good time with little responsibility and once home, had to turn all grown-up again.
It seems that my return to reality also brought reminders of some concerns in life that I ignored for a bit and I felt the weight of them hit hard. One evening after my homecoming, I read a blog post from a lovely poet, Jason King, that started: “Oh how I want to write something that will uplift the masses….offer encouragement….but I can’t….that’s not where I am….” His sadness affected me. Then a friend living with grief sent these lyrics: “Through the fish-eyed lens of tear-stained eyes, I can barely define the shape of this moment in time, And far from flying high in clear blue skies, I’m spiraling down to the hole in the ground where I hide.” (The Final Cut, Waters) His sadness affected me.
Then I got the news of the sudden death of a beautiful woman who is my age, with a teenage daughter and loving family. I haven’t even begun to process that sadness yet.
After that, the news of the mass shooting in Orlando hit. A friend asked if I was going to write about it and I said no, but here I am. The pain, the anger, the confusion, it can’t be ignored. It is all over everyone’s hearts and minds.
Some people call me negative because I am pragmatic about the reality of evil in the world. I must come across as unfeeling because I am not surprised by it. I’m not surprised by the vitriol that follows such horrors either. And I definitely suffer with a bit of …fatalism, maybe? Because I don’t believe it can ever truly be stopped. I’m not a true fatalist because I believe in good and love and life and the fight for justice on this plane as well. I’m just not your pie-in-the-sky-we-should-shoot-for-utopia type. But my worldview does not stop me from looking for ways to handle harsh reality.
I read, in Matthew 5, the words, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It took me many years to untangle this part of the Sermon on the Mount because at first blush it seems to say that bad things are blessings. I reject that out of hand because I choose to believe in a loving God and that wouldn’t track.
I feel at this point in my life that it is a call to mourn. That it is never a blessing to suffer from evil, but if we mourn the tragedies in our world, we can be comforted. Comfort is the blessing. And a blessing that does not replace the continuing grief paths that those close to tragedy will have to walk, by any means. But comfort that can be a giver of strength and courage to make the journey.
For me, mourning is a skill that I have had to work to attain. It’s one I also attempted to teach my children. I remember one of my son’s first heartbreaks and his attempts to stop the tears that wanted to fall. I begged him to let them come. To feel every ounce of the pain of rejection and sadness that was evident.
Mourning can look like just about anything right? A yellow-matter blubber. An F-bomb detonation. Over enthusiastic cleaning. A bucket of ice cream with a spoon. Netflix binge. Walking after midnight. The options are endless.
The opportunities to comfort are endless as well. To listen to a friend, to weep with a community, to give and receive a hug of solidarity in pain, and to just BE there for one another.
The proverbs offer this which I believe if we are honest with ourselves we know to be true: “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” (Proverbs 12:25)
For myself, I’m just going to say it out loud. My heart is heavy. And I know those that love me will comfort me. And maybe I will become like the protagonist in the first few lines from Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman, at least for a little while.
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”