"In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God." - AESCHYLUS
Over the past few years, I have become more and more conscious of grief. Obviously it’s partially a function of age, for though I am not yet an AARP member, simple math tells us that once we hit 35, we are entering the realm where there are fewer sunrises ahead of us, than in the rear view mirror.
This has not been a very stellar year. It has been a brutal one, for way too many in my orbit. Few days have passed without hearing of another tragedy, whether it has been economic, the result of sickness, or death. Some of these stories are firmly in the public domain, and have been shared in the media. Some have been discussed pretty openly by other writers, or in varied social media. Some have been shared at services, among friends and colleagues. Some have gone unshared, by those who prefer to keep things close to their hearts, or those who have come to believe grief is best left as a solitary journey.
There are some things that defy words, and the random selection of tragedy is one of them. There are few more helpless feelings than telling someone widowed in their twenties that the only certainty they will face, is that an elusive day will come where they will learn to live with the loss. There are some events in our world, we never quite get over.
If we live long enough, we will each face grief. There is not a blueprint for how to navigate the corridors of tragedy. No matter how we choose to cope, the cost of longevity is going through the loss of loved ones and the other storms certain to enter in our lives.
Many people in hospitality, like people anywhere, were affected by 9/11. Some of us knew an affected family, many of us knew somebody who was one small step removed from the events. One of the most indelible images were the memorials that sprang up around ground zero. Sadly we have had too many of those displays visiting us much closer to home the past few years. Sadly, I have had reasons to visit the one by that Safeway in Tucson, and after the Yarnell tragedy , in my old hometown of Prescott, Arizona. When I visited each, I was stunned by the number of remembrances, and the numbers of people obviously still moved by an incomprehensible event they had to try to understand. And though I visited both places alone, and did so anonymously, one could not escape the fact we all were united at that moment by that shared experience of loss. We each sensed something similar and inescapable, that for some reason some very great souls had left us for reasons we cannot comprehend. And never will.
We seek to remember those we have lost. Often we are compelled to do so. Though a Facebook Memorial Wall varies qualitatively with the posters on it, it is amazing the moving and sensitive things you read, as people grope to do justice to those lost. You can feel how desperately each misses the person who was being remembered . And though we often may be uncertain of the identity of whose soul is being bared online, and are not attending a funeral for the lost person, we are still part of a group joined together by that very real need to remember. The Earl Spencer said at his sister’s funeral "We are all united not only in our desire to pay our respects to Diana but rather in our need to do so.” He was very right.
“When he shall die, take him and cut him out into the stars, and he shall make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.” ROBERT KENNEDY AT THE 1964 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION
The Atlantic City convention took place less than a year after President Kennedy's assassination. On its last day , Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy introduced a short film in honor of his brother's memory. When Kennedy appeared on the podium, the hall erupted in 22 minutes of uninterrupted applause, causing him to nearly break into tears. Speaking about his brother's vision for the country, Robert Kennedy famously quoted from Romeo and Juliet, in the words noted above.
In the next weeks there will be many memories of Dallas, I have blogged about the anniversary and all the hagiography yet to come. The story about those days that affected history the most, was how his brother’s enforcer was almost destroyed by grief. And no little guilt, for he knew that the seeds for the murder, may have been sown in issues that crossed his brother’s desk. In his memoir, his younger brother wrote of how the Kennedy’s feared for Bobby’s sanity, and feared a second tragedy.
Instead that great loss caused him to reach out to those around him, those struggling with less publicized grief or suffering hard times each day of their lives. Grief made him change. He was spoke from a perspective illuminated by his life experience, and instilled earlier by Catholic social teaching. We are a body of souls able to support others, to comfort the suffering, obligated to help each other on our way. In these times where we too often are paralyzed by shades of red and blue, we forget that we are not powerless truly touch one another’s lives for the better. Knowing of the fragility of life, he knew we should never let the moment pass us by. He was raised to believe that those who much had been given, had an obligation to look out for one another, to give something back to our nation, for all it has given us. Sadly the journey was unfinished, but the solution he found was timeless. He lived the words he heard Cesar Chavez speak as he ended his famous fast in Delano, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”
When tragedy and setbacks had gotten the best of me, I wrote of my struggles online. I was stunned by the outpouring of support that people showed, the kindness. In a time where there was nothing but sadness, the words of support from many, meant everything to me . I had never dealt with so many differing kinds of losses , and I lost hope. The people that reached out are the sole reason I was able to move on, at a time I wanted to give up. It took a village to lift me up, for in a time where I had an obligation to be strong for others, I was having trouble standing. The great people who did that for me saved me. There is grace present when we band together to watch out for each other. It is something we all need to never forget. I never will.
MANY BLESSINGS- NOEL
RFK AT THE 1964 CONVENTION