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April 16th, 2007

on loss

"I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones,
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.

But who shall so forecast the years
And find in loss a gain to match?
Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch
The far-off interest of tears?

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,

Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
‘Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn"--Alfred, Lord Tennyson

When someone dies, people often send doggerel disguised as Victorian poetry. They fill the e-mail in-box with fluttering angel wings in Heaven, told in unfathomably obvious rhymes. They indulge in theological interpretation that would make a professional wrestler blush in light of its theatricality. They send pre-printed cards, with pre-printed notes, about pre-printed hopes and forlorn assurances.

When tragedy strikes, people huddle in small groups, retailing the story of what happened and why. Newspapers print articles, emphasizing this feature or that. When something is particularly newsworthy, extra effort is made to secure a tear on-camera from someone who has extra tears. It's all just story-telling by animals who cannot help but make up myths.

When someone dies, there are often only six words one can bear to hear: "I am sorry for your loss". No number of paragraphs of sentiment changes the facts. One finds one's faith not in words but in loss. The only salvation is to live what is before one--there is no easy retreat, no simple surrender, no comfort from grief in a catchphrase or a mental by-way.

People need concern--prayer, if you'll pardon the expression--if by prayer we mean the gathering of the people around in thought and silent presence. None of that brings anyone back, not today, not in this way. None of it solves anything. No solutions exist in the day-to-day. What exists is loss, and the need to live in it, and to live through it, and to experience and share as much love as one can during the sheer, living hell of loss.
People don't need their stories made into fodder for Nancy Grace.

Today we learned in the news of many people enduring unimaginable loss in a school shooting in Virginia. I hope you will join with me in rejecting each effort by the broadcast news to try to invade the privacy of these families, by turning off the sensationalist coverage when it comes on, and by writing, where appropriate, to each network and each advertiser who participates in this mockery of the grief of innocent families.