Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

Public Grieving



The bombings in Boston this week remind us that public tragedies lead to public grieving, and even if we don’t know anyone involved, when we see photographs of the faces of those who were killed from a time when they were happy, see the faces of the injured in pain, see the despair of those who lost loved ones, we also grieve. 

Public grieving becomes personal when we identify with their sorrow, confusion, and anger. It doesn’t matter if the photographs are of people in Boston, India, or South Africa. We are affected and feel compassion rise from within us because we are part of the same human community.

When innocent people are killed, this is a hammer tapping on a porcelain vase. It sends cracks shooting through our conviction that goodness is the ruling force in the world. “How could this happen?” we ask, as if we hadn’t been paying attention to news reports every day of new bombings like this occurring around the world almost. 

The pressure cooker bomb? It’s the bomb of choice in Afghanistan. “How did we not know this?” We may take note of tragedies in far away lands being reported on the evening news, but then we go back to what we were doing, thinking, “How sad, another bombing in…” But if we see a photograph of the face or the limb that’s been blown off, then it becomes tangible and it affects us personally. We grieve individual people, not numbers.

Maybe it’s the sense of vulnerability that affects us the most, what gets under our skin and makes us uneasy. Most of us live with an assumed sense of security each day, and anything that intrudes into this protected space shakes our confidence. 

For example, yesterday I read a poem by Brian Barker called “Dog Gospel.” In it a farmer takes the family dog and abandons it far from home where it suffers horribly trying to survive. A boy finds the dog, ties it to the ground, and watches as it slowly starves to death. I don’t know if Barker is writing about something that really happened or not, but it reminds me of real people in the world who deliberately hurt the innocent just to see how they react. It doesn’t matter if you call these individuals evil, mentally unstable, or sadistic, things like this happen far too often for me to dismiss it as isolated aberrations.

The truth is that life is always uncertain, even though we act as if we have all the time in the world and will live far into our eighties. I believe that life is still worth living even with all of the tragedies, because life is good and noble.


When we watch a public disaster unfold like the one in Boston, we see how ordinary people step up and take care of others simply because there is the need. This teaches us how to help others when a tragedy happens near us, it prepares us to grieve, and it shows us that as horrible as something might be, we can survive if we refuse to give up.

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