Like most Americans, the events of last Friday brought the Matron to her knees: literally. She was on a run when the news filtered in through the radio headpiece: the AP confirmed one victim and the shooter, dead.
"Oh!" panted the Matron, still intent on the task. "Please let it not be a child but some adult that crazy person targeted."
A few minutes later, an audibly emotional radio announcer intoned that 18 elementary school children were among the 20 + dead.
The Matron stopped running.
There's snow in Minnesota and there she sat, weeping for those babies and their mothers -- dumbfounded in the face of Evil able to walk into a school and murder children. Eventually she dragged herself home, only to spend the rest of her waking hours online and in front of the TV.
She cried when she picked up Scarlett from school and clutched He Who Cannot be Named when he walked through the door. When it was time to get her 9-year old from a friend's house, just seeing the simple act of Merrick opening the van door broke her maternal heart.
Some other mother will never see that simple act again, not from the child she lost.
So bereft was the Matron that she spent two days uncharacteristically unable to move on. Because that's what she heard on Minnesota Public Radio and read in the newspaper: how to cope, how to explain, how to move past tragedy. She was offered no shortage of expert advice in self-care. The only problem is that advice came while she would be weeping or wondering at a world where "assault-type rifles" hang on some family's wall.
Scarlett: "Mom, you should stop watching the news."
John: "I know, I know, sweetie. Just don't go there. It's too awful."
The Matronly Mental Health Self Talk: "Don't project your own 'stuff,' know your boundaries, model good self-regulation for your children, don't get sucked in, move on and be a better person in honor of those families."
Not one thing worked -- not even NPR. Instead, she of most-excellent imagination went over and over the terror those children may have experienced and the parents' grief. What is the extent of f human suffering? This seems unbearable. What kind of country have we become, when a 24-year old man walks into a school and slaughters helpless children (using the weapon his mother legally purchased).
In desperation, on Sunday the Matron went to Clouds in the Water Zen Center, hoping against hope that the Sunday 'sermon' (Dharma talk) would take on the horror in the same visceral, full-body way in which the Matron seemed destined to experience herself.
Friends, she was not disappointed.
The priest -- a woman about the Matron's age -- just picked right up where the Matron was.
Priest: "I cannot move beyond Friday's events. I am weeping, rooted in suffering, trying to understand how to incorporate this into human existence."
The Dharma talk turned into a conversation where Priest and community members talked. She doesn't need to go into those details. You know them. The world moved in that conversation: gun control to suffering to children to mental illness to video games to presidential politics.
Here -- in a paraphrase unworthy of the real deal -- is how the Priest wrapped them up: "I think that not only is it okay to not 'move on," I don't think we're supposed to. What does 'moving on' mean?. We bear witness to the most unimaginable suffering. The Dharma tells us that we are all connected and that life's work is the end of suffering. So we are where we should be, thick in the middle of it."
Here she paused. "This particular tragedy tells me that we must expand our grief pool. We should reconsider the expanse of human suffering from which we find shelter from on a daily basis. That shelter from suffering is a luxury we can choose to set aside."
And the Matron knew in that moment how much she pulls out the luxury of shelter --- how she understands that death, disease, and war define the lives of millions while she turns on her flat-screen TV or debates the merits of those new boots. Suffering from which she shelters herself is not limited to what's far away. Friends and family crippled by addiction, mental illness, or existential despair are often those she avoids: good boundaries and self-protection. Yet these people are suffering, too.
So the Matron left Clouds in the Water feeling more firmly situated in her grief. She understood that asking the big questions were precisely what the situation warranted --and she was glad to be reassured within her religious community that there really is no 'moving on' from the human condition, a condition she shares with the mothers and fathers of Sandy Hook.
And Ethiopia, Pakistan, South Detroit, and four blocks down.
Sometimes feeling better isn't 'making things right' but seeing the world differently. Let's open the grief pool, folks. That's an action statement, from voting differently to lobbying to alleviating the pain of a friend to whatever ways in which we can do right and live our own lives in ways that work against pain (large and small) and suffering.