Monday, December 17, 2012

The arc of grief

Of all the painful images we have absorbed since Friday morning, this one, from children in Karachi, Pakistan, brings me close to mental paralysis.  We are not, in this country, subject to daily drone attacks that unfortunately kill good people along with the targets.  That these children are shaken by the events in Sandy Hook reminds us that all children feel and think and, as my friend Tracy said this morning, have voices that must also be heard.

Of all the risks we face in life, grief is perhaps the most debilitating.  It paralyzes us.  It disrupts our lives and routines.  It's hard to sleep.  It reminds us to care more obviously for those we love.

Moving forward, we can stay stuck in our grief or we can decide exactly what we are going to do to make it harder for something like this to happen again.  Even if we have never written a letter to a member of Congress, the Internet makes it easy to figure out how to do it.  We can check in with our local schools to understand what safety precautions are already in place, and perhaps volunteer our time to help shape new processes and procedures.  We can speak out in favorite of better identification and mental health support for those on the edges of society.  We might also want to understand what safety protocols are in place in large gathering spaces other than schools -- churches, meeting halls, shopping malls, theaters, for instance.

The fact of the matter is that this is our country and our voices can make a difference. Let's not let this discussion fade from memory in another month.  Let's move toward the light.  Let's make our grief count for something this time.  Even if the best we can do is put better definition and process around background checks and require that all sales have background checks, we will have mitigated some of the risk around gun ownership and moved a range of discussions down the road.

In the meantime, the world watches as we bury these small children. A friend asked why I bothered to watch TV and I answered, "to bear witness."  From the tangible grief we all feel, we can shape a trajectory -- what Dr. King called "the arc of the universe"* -- that is not made by bullets, but from an understanding, finally, that there are some things up with which we will not put, and that it's better late than never.

*I believe Dr. King was actually paraphrasing another minister, Theodore Parker, when he said "The Arc of the Universe Is Long But It Bends Towards Justice."

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