For the past week, I have not been able to get the families of the victims of the shooting in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School off my mind.
I have always said that Christmas, for the hype about the season being the “most wonderful time of the year,” is actually very depressing for a large number of people. Christmas for them represents, or makes more obvious, what is wrong or lacking in their lives. For too many, there is no family, no home, no “manger,” so to speak, for them to lay their heads or their hearts.
That is true in general, but for the families of the victims of the Newtown shootings, and for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, it is even more true. At a time where many are celebrating by giving gifts and eating way too much food, I would bet that many of the people in Newtown are forcing themselves to eat even a little, and for victims of Hurricane Sandy, left homeless by Sandy, I would assume that they don’t feel much like eating and laughing, either.
Dr. Martin Luther King talked about “redemptive suffering,” i.e., that there is value in suffering. If it does not kill us, it makes us stronger, and so if we endure the suffering, the assumption is that we come out of it better, changed, but better. That is true for the most part.
But it is not the afterward that I am thinking of. All of us have “new normals” based on painful experiences in our lives. It is the in the midst of the suffering that is the problem, the issue. There is no “quick fix.” One cannot take an Advil (or four), four times a day to ease the pain. The pain of suffering is ruthless and persistent, and it sometimes taunts the sufferer. There are lapses of the pain, when the sufferer thinks that the interminable pain is gone. But it comes back. Pain is peristaltic in nature; it ebbs and flows. There is an arrogance about it because it knows that it will leave when it feels like it. It is a spirit-virus, and it must run its course.
There is no remedy. We try to find one, like alcohol or drugs, or any number of other things, but those are just crutches, and not helpful crutches at that. Billie Holliday said it best in a song, “Good Morning, Heartache.”
That is what I keep thinking about as concerns those families in Newtown, and in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. Heartache is greeting them as they awaken this morning, rubbing salt in their already excruciatingly painful wounds. There are probably Christmas presents for the little children killed last week that were purchased weeks ago in anticipation of happy squeals this morning, but those presents will not be opened…and in the case of the victims of the hurricane, I wonder where in the world they are even waking up this morning?
Those families are in the “moment by moment” phase of suffering; I would imagine that even breathing hurts for some of them. I know that pain. I have been there.
The families in Newtown and the hurricane victims are fresh reminders of horrible pain, but throughout 2012, many have suffered horrible losses, and this Christmas is bitter…not even bittersweet yet. I think of the parents of young Trayvon Martin…and so many other families of young children who died this year due to violence.
I am praying for those families. The one thing that I have learned to do in the midst of suffering is to mutter. I mutter scriptures that remind me of the presence of God, a God who allows evil but who does not wish for us to crumble under the pain that evil causes. I mutter. Consistently. Constantly. Words that help me not to think about the pain in my gut that is eating my spirit alive. Everyone has his or her own words that they have read or found comfort in in times past. Powerful words become the antidote for pain. They help our spirits get the strength to push the pain from the depths of our souls out of our beings.
I doubt the parents and families of the victims of Newtown and the victims of the hurricane have the strength right now to utter anything. Right now, they are in the phase of suffering where even breathing hurts.
So, I will mutter for them today. It is my gift for them, to them. Today I will intercede for them and mutter the words that have helped me in times of excruciating spiritual and emotional pain.
Hopefully, the words sent up will allow these newly suffering people a manger on which to lay their weary and hurting heads.
Nobody gets through suffering alone. The crowds in Newtown have thinned out. The television cameras are gone. There is a loud quiet that is sitting on that little city. There is no commotion to serve as a distraction for their pain. So, I will mutter for them, because their suffering is just beginning. All of us need someone to hold us up when we want to simply stop living…
A candid observation…