On Saturday afternoon I was at the nail place getting my no-chip manicure, looking at and listening to the people around me, which feels a bit like watching TV–calming and weird at the same time. There were two young women talking about their plans to go out drinking, discussing the names of drinks they planned to try: the “Dirty Girl Scout,” the “Naked Girl Scout,” and something with the words “blow job” in the title. There was a lady talking about her plans for the family Christmas dinner she was making, and how some of the kids could eat off of Christmas plates but not all could because she didn’t have enough for everyone, but maybe she should go to Kohl’s and buy more? And then there was the gigantic football player and his girlfriend: he was getting a mani-pedi, she was texting her friends.
Then the Christmas music started, specifically, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and tears started running down my cheeks because all I have on my mind are the people of Newton, Connecticut and their families. I was crying, but couldn’t wipe my face because my hands were soaking in polish remover, and this seemed both ridiculous and completely appropriate at the same time. We go about our regular, sweet, silly little lives, because what else would we do, and at the same time we are all, as one of the characters in Jan Karon’s lovely “Mitford” novels says, “trying to swallow something that won’t go down.”
I’ve been wondering for days whether to write this post because what in God’s name can anyone say or do? That is the question I was asking myself on Saturday, sitting there in the nail place, especially when the owner’s two little boys came in and crammed themselves into one pedicure chair together and played Angry Birds on an i-Pad. What can I do? What can I say? What can I do?
So this post has just been a draft, and would have remained as such until today’s news of the funerals started coming out, and I realized that I was actually afraid to take my 7-year old son out shopping on our way home tonight. What they say when school shootings happen is always the same: “Things like this don’t happen here.” But that has never been true. Things like this happen here, wherever you are reading this; here is Virginia, Oregon, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Norway…the bottom line is that Newton, Connecticut is anywhere, everywhere, and those children and those families are us. All of us.
My intention in writing this post is to invite you to come and be here. Something like a virtual prayer service. Just be here, with whatever you have, whatever you can offer, whatever you feel. Come and sit here, in front of your computer screen, and pray as hard as you can, pray with everything in your heart. Cry or breathe, let your heart break open, then pray some more, because it matters and you won’t be alone. I truly believe that when we have no idea what to bring but bring ourselves anyway, it matters. If all you have to offer is grief, then sit here in front of your computer with your grief. You aren’t alone, and it matters. Your grief matters. Your love matters. There is love here. There is heart here. Because you are here and you aren’t alone.
The poet Denise Levertov wrote, “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” That is what made me write this post. And because, as the Rilke poem below tells us, when grief is all you have, then grief is what you bring. It is right and good to demand that God hear our grief and help us bear it.
Read the poem. And if you want to let me know that you were here, if it helps you to do that, I promise you that your prayers will be in my heart as I keep offering up whatever I have to offer. Your prayers will echo in the hearts of everyone who is here reading, and that matters. Together we can share what feels unbearable, together all our prayers will mean something, not just to us individually but to everyone else in pain. I promise that too.
I read this quote from one of the Newton school neighbors who took some children into his home to wait for their parents: “This little boy turns around, and composes himself, and he looks at me like he had just removed himself from the carnage and he says, ‘Just saying, your house is very small,'” Rosen said. “I wanted to tell him, ‘I love you. I love you.'”
When our hearts are broken, sometimes love comes out. It will never be enough, but it matters more than we ever know. I love you. I love you.
It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,
and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.
I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)