Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Time to Mourn

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote one of the most beautiful, haunting poems in literature. Beautiful, and in our society, seemingly impossible to honor (poem posted at end of post).

A time to tear down, a time to build:
A section of the Murrah Building, still broken, but now a poignant part of a peaceful place
I attended a memorial service for Connecticut victims at my hospital today. The turnout was small. Not surprising, considering the crowd I work with--overstretched, and already bearing the traumas and sufferings of others, taking time to confront their own reactions and mourning comes at great cost (if it comes at all).

The meeting consisted of myself, a few chaplains, a few Sisters, and a couple others. After listening to the 23rd Psalm sung, and a prayer of Advent, we each offered reflections. At first, I heard familiar strains (not bad, just no longer meaningful for me): "I know good will come of all this. I just know it" etc.

Finally, one of us copped to anger and confusion, particularly in regard to the national response. "Why is everyone yelling, and pointing fingers? There's all this pressure to make big decisions, and everyone is fighting for their point of view."

At first it looked like we would try to comfort him out of his emotions.

Our society ill prepares us to live the conversation of pain. We act. We do. We escape. On a national level we force upon ourselves actions and decisions in the time that belongs to mourning. We suffer, but deny our suffering, focusing with impaired hearts and minds on actions--never realizing these actions cannot be sound.

But, we must mourn. We must ache. By denying the power of the suffering, and refusing the journey of grief, we stave off healing. We make decisions without the wisdom of deep experience. Activity lends a false sense of control--a much more appealing sensation than sadness.

Our task for this time is to mourn. To weep. To grieve. To be present to our own suffering, and that of others.

Accept that no satisfying "why" exists. Select symbols that remind you why your heart may feel burdened even in times of levity (I wear a green and white ribbon--Sandy Hook school colors). When others express "negative" emotions, validate that human reaction. Take moments to examine your own reaction. And, connect. Connect to your family, friends, faith community, national community, local and far neighbors.

In a society with no language for sadness, we feel alone and abnormal in our emotions, and isolate. Know we all hurt too. The very passion of our anger and action belies the depth of our brokenness over the loss of these people.

For the brave soul who shared his anger and confusion, we chose presence. The conversation turned from attempts to eliminate our discomfort at his discomfort, to acknowledging the reality we shared. From that conversation came a plan to reach out to our coworkers, offering a safe moment to express prayers and emotions. The Sisters agreed to make green and white ribbons for all who want them. And we will place a table with a chaplain, volunteer, Sister, or behavioral health specialist in an accessible location for a couple of days.

Know that the underlying discomfort you feel is common, real, and a necessary part of this time. Take comfort, not in demanding relief, not in politicizing, setting agendas, or preaching, but in knowing this time belongs to itself. Which means the time of laughter will follow. That time is not your concern. Live this moment, now. Your experience after will be all the richer for it. 

A couple of other better written sources:
Deepak Chopra: After tragedy, brain needs to heal. A really good review of the neuroscience of trauma, and the wisdom of healing before making decisions.

Elizabeth Kaeton @ Telling Secrets: Evil. A deep look into evil, mental illness, and choices.

Rachel Held Evans: God Can't Be Kept Out. To combat all that horrible theology out there trying to tell you God plays games of tit-for-tat, or can somehow be pushed into, or out of, a box.

The author of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:
There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build, 
 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,     
a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

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