Well meaning, but misguided, Christian friends bring their faith into conversations as if to nudge me closer to their belief. A belief that they mistakenly believe will help us get over our anguish. One friend, in discussing the war on terrorism, suggested that God is punishing this country. She is sure, however, that he will step in at just the right time (implicitly when we have learned from our erring ways) to put this country on the right track. We will be saved, as a people and as a nation. God, she assures me is all-knowing and all-loving, and there is a reason for everything. If God is so loving, so all knowing, and has a reason for everything, then please tell me the reason Angie died. Once we know the reason, we will be able to start the healing. This is a fairly simple and straight-forward request.
When I asked her, “Where was this all-knowing and all-loving God on 16 January 2002?” she answered in vague generalities. She reminds me of people who survive an accident where others are killed; the survivors often praise God, saying there was a reason for their good fortune. My question is what was the reason for the bad fortune of those who died? If god so loved you that he saved you and not others, where is your Christian compassion for the families of those he did not save, those left behind?
Implicit in these words is that those who died, deserved to die because they had done something wrong, they were being punished. Explain this to me—give us the specifics, the evidence, behind your reasoning. Or was it that they were somehow less worthy? Again, tell us why and how. Had they done something wrong? If so, tell us what, so we can learn, grow, and understand. Had they done something to deserve their fate? If so tell us what. How did God make the decision who would live and who would die? I’d really like to know how God applies these rules. I never get an adequate answer.
Other well meaning, but misinformed friends tell us it is time to move on with our lives. That may be true and all Angie’s family and friends wish they could move on. But, far too many questions remain to be answered for us to begin a healing process. That is the simple, but difficult truth.
Another painfully superficial attempt at condolences is the phrase, “We know where she is.” This incredibly cruel attempt to comfort is one of the most aggravating sentences that can be said by any human being to someone who has lost a loved one. It is usually said with a supercilious smile. I want to respond by saying, “If you know where she is then please tell me where! I don’t care how far; I’ll go get her. Tell us where, her father and I will go get her, so will her brother, so will our son David. We miss her so much! We are all so upset; the pain has been so unbearable; please tell us where she is and we’ll go get her!” These sentences are not meant to comfort the victim’s family, they are meant to comfort the person saying them.
These comments allow the speaker to sleep; he or she doesn’t have to examine what may have caused the murder. These comments allow individuals to avoid thinking. They can avoid the truth, can avoid coming to grips with reality. These innocuous sentences are wrapped in self-delusion; these words allow the person who utters them to wallow in self-righteousness. These sentences are meant for the people saying them, not for the families of the victims. Once you begin to question at the causes of a tragedy you open Pandora’s box—most people are not prepared to deal with these questions, much less the answers.
To those who rely on God’s will for everything; those who say everything is part of a grand plan, then where is the guilt, where is the need for punishment? If everything is part of a grand plan, why not sit back and go along for the ride? Why do anything? Why bother with things such as reason, thought, and logic?
The absurd extreme that follows from this line of reasoning is that no one is accountable for anything because it is all part of God’s will. Ok, then let’s start by doing away with the whole legal system. Why do we need it? I’m confused by this preordained logic.
Another superficial attempt to console is “Let the healing begin.” These four words are usually heard following some large-scale tragedy or killing: Like Columbine, Oklahoma City, or the World Trade Center. These words are often accompanied by another meaningless and thoughtless cliché: “closure”. Those who utter these words have no idea what “closure” or “healing” really is or means to the survivors. These people don’t seem to realize that there can never be a true “closure” or “healing” in the strictest sense of the words. In fact, there are only brief period of relative calm in our lives before the horrifying reality closes in again. Tragedies leave permanent scars, some of which never heal; they may fade and time may help soften the pain, but the wounds never “heal.”
It is said that the line between humor and tragedy is thin; indeed it is. The humorist George Carlin put it succinctly when he said, after one of these tragedies we should say, “Let the scarring begin.”
A truly thoughtful expression of compassion and condolence came from a student in a class I was teaching for the Massachusetts State Highway Patrol. What she said was simple and to the point: “I hope you find peace.” Those words are so simple, so clear and they say it all. Those words helped.
A truly profound expression of support and sympathy would be to speak out against gun violence. (To be continued)