“Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. Grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.” -Anna Quindlen
When I find myself overwhelmed by the weight of terrible tragedies, I often seek out a quiet place where I can sit, and mourn, and reflect. Sometimes that quiet space provides all the peace I need to recover from the sadness and to move on with the day.
But this morning, sitting in my car, I realized that the tragedies of Boston and West, Texas, so quick on the heels of the terror at Sandy Hook and all too soon since 9/11 and Oklahoma City before it, have besieged my heart and mind with a profound sorrow that is impossible to shake in silence.
It is natural to become depressed and fearful, in times like this. It is easy to look at the world as a desolate place and to look at humanity as beyond repair when we have suffered through horror after inexplicable horror. Yet, I am reminded that each single act of terror and every uncontrollable tragedy, throughout our history, has been met head-on by heroes immeasurable – by countless numbers of people who band together to help the injured, to console the grieving, and to rebuild shattered lives, homes, and communities.
Terror, hatred, and fear have always been a reality, but they have never been the answer. Terror, hatred, and fear will always fail, because, despite all of our political, religious, and cultural differences, people still believe in each other, still care for one another, and continue to show it in the most extraordinary ways and in the most terrible of times.
When a small group of people, motivated by hatred and fear, attacked the Twin Towers in an attempt to terrorize a nation, and when their attempt was met by hundreds of men and women who ran into the burning buildings – ran into the fires – to save others: Courage has won.
When a marathon was shattered by bomb blasts in an incomprehensible act of madness, and when spectators were quick to cover others’ wounds or hold the injured in their arms until help arrived; and when those exhausted legs, having already run 26 miles, got up and ran another 3 miles to the nearest hospital to donate blood: Compassion has won.
When a deranged gunman enters a University lecture hall or a crowded movie theater and starts firing at random, and when parents dive onto their children and boyfriends shield their girlfriends – when one willingly surrenders herself so that another might live: Love has won.
When a bus monitor, whose life work is ensuring the safety of school children, is viciously taunted and abused by those same children, and when the country and the world rally around her, donating enough money for her to retire – and when that very same bus monitor takes the money and donates it to charities in need, rather than spending it on herself: Goodness – so much goodness – has won.
So, when I think about the world and all its horrors, I find the question “Why?” is the first that comes to mind. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why would someone go to such lengths to injure or kill innocent people? Why do they hate us? Why couldn’t we stop it?
But the “Why” questions will be forever unanswerable. It is the “What Now?” that we need to remember. Maybe we can’t stop all of these tragedies and all of these madmen, and maybe we’ll never understand their motives. But we can control how we respond – we can look to our neighbors, our friends, our family, and even to perfect strangers, in times of great trauma, and say: “I am with you.”
We can remember that for every tragedy or unspeakable act, dozens, hundreds, thousands, of extraordinary people will rise up as one to remind the rest of the world of everything that is good and great in it, to remind us of all the reasons why there is still hope for a better tomorrow.
In my work as a student and an educator, “Why?” is always of great consequence. But in my life, “What’s Next?” “What Now?” and “What Can I Do for You?” will be the most important questions.