I was driving back to Madison from St Paul when I heard the news about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I had been listening to classical music for most of the drive, but decided to catch the news when I was only a half hour or so away from home. The news was terrifying. I could feel my throat tighten and tears form. I kept shaking my head and whispered "no," over and over again as I listened intently to the report of NPR, wanting to know the facts as they were known at that time. Two dead. No three dead. Over a hundred injured.
Later, I thought about people in my life who might be touched directly by this tragedy. I have a dear friend who lives close to Boston. Was there anyone in her family/friend circle who was there, even running in the event? I thought of another good friend whose daughter is a runner and lives in New York. Was she a participant? Others came to mind as well. I have made connections, and all is well. Relief. At the same time I thought about our daughter, who has participated in the Twin Cities Marathon, and our son, who is scheduled to participate in a relay marathon in Cleveland soon. "Don't," I could hear myself think, as if I have anything to say about the activities of my adult children. But more importantly, I know that response was not helpful or even appropriate.
Our responses to such extraordinary events have much to reveal about our beliefs and feelings.
When 9/11 occurred my first reaction was to learn what I could about what had happened. Like everyone else, I was glued to the television. Then I wanted to gather everyone I love around me, at least metaphorically. I knew no one from my family was in New York City at the time, but there was such a strong need to connect, to hear their voice, to know they were safe. After that I could move into response mode, which in my case was to help organize a prayer service at our church. Interestingly, my parents were visiting us in Ohio at the time, and they quickly detached from the coverage of the horrific events. My mother, who in our family was known as the Queen of Happy Talk, was more than ready to change the subject. Furthermore, they had no concerns about driving the next day to visit a friend in upstate New York. Life goes on, they seemed to say.
Yes, it does, but...
Where I struggle sometimes is how to be empathic and show my empathy and DO something, but at the same time not become paralyzed or unrealistic about the ways of the world. Or too attached to the media stories and reports. Terrible things happen. Terrible, terrible things, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope. In this case I can't deliver chicken soup to a grieving family, but I can quiet my mind and devote meditation time to bringing a bit of calm into the world. I can lift my heart in prayer for all those in need of hope or love or courage or forgiveness. I can pray for peace and attempt to live in a peaceful, yet courageous way. I can attempt to learn what that means and what that calls me to do.
Life is a constant opportunity to uncover and clarify what we believe, what we love, and what we fear. I wonder what an event like this most recent tragedy reinforces in you. Or weakens? Do you marvel at the heroes of these days and all their unselfish responses or do you shudder at the evil? What, if anything, does this event change for you or in you? Do you promise to hold life more closely or do you let go in some way of your false control of your life? What do your responses reveal about who you are?
I offer a prayer by Marianne Williamson in her book Illuminata, A Return to Prayer. Feel free to adapt this to the feelings of your own heart. This seems a good place to start.
Please remove from my mind the tendency to judge.
Please remove from my mind the tendency to hate.
Please remove from my mind the tendency to blame.
Please reveal to me, Lord,a way to stand in my power, through love instead of fear, and through peace instead of violence.
May I hear not the voice for anger, but only the voice for love.
And teach me, dear Lord, how not to hate those who hate me.
Transform all darkness into light dear God,
And use my mind as an instrument of Your harmlessness.
I surrender to You my thoughts of violence.
Take these thought, Lord, and wash them clean.
Thank you very much.