Last Tuesday, I was walking across campus on my way to the parking lot. It had been a long day but a good one, and the air was tinged with frost. The light was grey and wintry as I made my way down the stairs of a small courtyard, and suddenly I found myself back under that plum tree in the hospital garden, holding my son while he took his last breaths. The fact of his death, four and a half years later, woke up in that chilly afternoon and wrapped its arms around me and I found myself almost knocked off my feet by it. It was a short walk across campus, just a few minutes. But during those minutes tears fell and the familiar wail rose up in my throat and I was struck anew by the relentless, incomprehensible fact that my beautiful little boy was dead. Still.
Then I shook the tears from my eyes and got into the car, and drove to pick up my living child from day care. And when she ran to give me a hug I realized that I will never be able to hug her enough. I also realized that I am amazingly lucky and that this luckiness comes with the tinge of fear that all of us who’ve lost a child can recognize. Dot is vital and lovely and imaginative and alive. But the world is full of things like cancer and drunk drivers and there are days when I still see death around every corner.
And then, Friday.
I wish I had something profound to say, something that would make sense of the senseless. I am struck, brutally struck, by how easy it seems to be for an individual to bring such deep pain to so many families. It is horrifying that deep love makes us deeply vulnerable and that there are people who use that vulnerability for terrible and selfish ends. It seems like the decks are stacked against us, against anyone who longs for peace and for full and happy lives for the children around us.
My son died from a medical condition for which there is no known cause. I hate that. I don’t understand why it happened or why it had to affect him and rob me and the world of all his gifts and potential. And so many children and babies die from causes we cannot prevent, so many families grieve, so much potential is lost even as we struggle to save it. There’s enough grief out there, an ocean of grief. I do not understand why any human being would bring more pain into the world.
And I do not care why anyone might do that. I think it is palpably evil, but even saying that feels like giving it too much attention. Hurting people is too easy. Spreading hatred and fear is too easy. Anyone can do it. Any sick fuck can pull that off. It doesn’t take talent or dedication or skill. It is the opposite of brave. Loving, showing people where your heart is when you aren’t sure if they’ll embrace you or hurt you, that is bravery. That is what makes a person remarkable. That is what we should strive for and, when we see it, that is what we should remember. I think of the people who laid down their lives for others’ children and of how brave and full of love they must have been in those moments. I am so very grateful to them. I hate that what they had to do was so hard, that they had to give up so much of their own possibilities, that their families wail and ache and cry and will still feel those wails rise up years from now. I hate that. But what they did was amazing. They deserve to be remembered and their actions deserve a response.
The world is full of fear and hurt, and it is stupidly and infuriatingly easy to make it more so. It makes me want to pull the blankets over my head and hide and cry. But here’s the thing: because the world is dark, and hurt and hatred are all to easy to access, none of us can hide, at least not for long. We need to love and recognize love when we see it. We need to put our energies into creating love and light for others. It seems, sometimes, ridiculously hard to “be the change,” to light even a small candle. It seems, in a shadowed world, to be an often thankless, hopeless task. Which is why it is so important. I am lighting small candles this week, working to be a little more kind, a little more helpful, a little more passionate, a little more present.
In spite of my crisis of faith, I keep coming back to these words from the Book of Common prayer, Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night…
I used to see it as a cry to God to keep us safe. But today I see it as a charge to try to keep each other safe. To be conduits for the good, the divine (not that I know what that is, these days), for hope, for love. Which will always make us vulnerable, but is always worth it.