Last night, Chris and I stood at the international exit gate of Boston Logan’s Terminal E and awaited Sarah’s return from a semester of college abroad. She came home from Greece with lots of stories and a great craving for iced coffee! We welcomed her home. It’s our first Christmas re-assembling ourselves as a family that must travel to find each other. Sarah is an adult off and about in the wide world, and Chris and I are both living in Ipswich … but always busy somewhere else … so our family rhythms are now timed, in some ways, to her comings and goings.
And Jessie … she is all around us. But there will not be a reunion here. She will not, on this earth, flash her passport at customs, wink at security, and waltz in glittery red shoes through an airport gate, back to us.
There are many sorts of comings and goings.
One week ago, we climbed the swaybacked granite stairs to the top of hill and visited Jessie’s grave. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a small pink stone set flush with the grass that spreads itself between the roots of two towering maples. It was an international night sponsored by Compassionate Friends, an organization for bereaved parents, to light candles for departed children everywhere. Many communities hosted vigils. Chris and I sat together. Laid on a blanket, staring up at the starry sky clasped between the crooked fingers of the naked winter trees. Lit candles. Put a tiny fir tree by the headstone, and hung one crane on it. Said a prayer full of thorns and hurt and sharp-edge stones and starry nights and hope. There
One week later, it seems as if we should hold that vigil again. In fact, its been held over and over, across the country and many other places, to remember the families in Connecticut. We’ve made circles, said prayers, wept, wondered, argued, shouted. I would also say, lighting a candle has its place.
I just don’t have any soft and gentle words for this. I don’t want to light more candles … for little ones … ever, for any reason. Not because of disease. Or starvation. Or natural disaster. Or violence. Not for any cause.
On the other hand, when Toni Morrison spoke at Harvard a few weeks ago, she reminded us about the silence of the Amish community after their own trauma. How they would not speak to the media. Instead their beliefs were enacted through deeds. They attended the funeral of the one who took away the lives of their beloved children. They comforted his widow and children. They raised funds for his family. They razed the schoolhouse full of unspeakable memories, and built a new one. They lived out their compassion and forgiveness, in the midst of their own great sorrow.
I’m not saying that’s the solution for every loss. Just that it is another path, another way, another example among many responses to devastating circumstances.
This weekend, I don’t have words at all. And maybe that’s best. Oh, so many voices already speak into this space, this trauma, this irrevocable tragedy.
And some are comforting. My colleagues found the inside themselves the prayers we all needed to acknowledge the darkness we felt and a reminder to reach, like the winter trees, for the starry night, the promised light.
Yet for me? Though my family knows much about loss, it is not this kind.
So rather than fill the air with more words, I will listen. Listen to silence. Listen to sorrow. Listen to songs. Listen to stories. Listen.
And yes, I will light a candle. It is one act I can offer, when I feel powerless, for my own family and so many others.