Living In and Through Tragedy

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This post also appeared on State of Formation.

It has been a tough week to be in Boston.  It is almost as hard to add anything to all that has been written about the tragedy, confusion, and sadness that the week brought, to Boston and to the world as it looked on.  Two seemingly contradictory themes stood out for me, first in my experience (however indirect) of the events of the week, and then in the reflections on those events that spoke to me most.  These themes are silence and community.

Silence, because no words were helpful in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, and all too often words were harmful, as they alleged things that their speakers did not know for certain.  Silence, because in the face of tragedy, we must learn to be comfortable with questions, with confusion, and not with answers or certainty.  Silence, because tragedy demands of us, in this day and age, a respite from our hyper-connectivity to honour the dead who can no longer speak.

Community — everywhere I looked, people yearned to be together.  On Monday, with no hope of comprehension, we all wanted community.  This was exacerbated because the bombing occurred in the middle of two tremendously hard days in Jewish calendar, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Memorial and Independence Days, respectively).  On a normal year, these are hard days to commemorate fully, coming as they do on back-to-back days, demanding a sharp transition from mourning to celebration.  This year it seemed a simply impossible task — and so we came together, to mark the time as the bittersweet reminder of the imperfection of our world.  Friday brought a need for community on a biological level.  Being cooped up inside all day, most of us without any immediate threat to our well-being, left the whole city stir-crazy, needing the simple joy of the outdoors and company beyond those we live with.  In larger communal settings, the city of Boston has exemplified its need to be together.

These themes seem contradictory — but they should not.  Taken together, they are the dominant posture of a funeral.  We know that mourning is a natural and necessary process in the face of loss, and it should not surprise us that a similar process is required, adjusted to the appropriate scale, to mourn for what the city has lost.

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