Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Difference A Life Can Make, Notes on Newtown

We must grieve to heal enough to endure, even to insist that we will flourish, so that we can act today and again tomorrow for another tomorrow.  I want to believe that no one has been left untouched or unchanged by these events.  That is a small part of my hope for change.  What difference might we make for one another?  How do we heal?

Life will not demand we create a better life, much less a better world.  All that is before us is the challenge we create for ourselves: to become more humane and to begin we cannot aver less than every human possibility.  So for me, it’s never all going to be all right.  Not in this lifetime or likely in any other.  I will contend with these memories to remind me of what can be, in every way possible.  I will seek the fortitude to heal because courageous souls protect the innocent, serve the frail and lend their hands to the living--- and I will admire as well those who dare to speak out to change the world, untroubled to admit we are all capable of doing more and better.

I choose not to tranquilize myself with the promise that “all is well” or that it will be then, or will be someday.   All manner of things are indeed not well and we cannot make that so.   So what can we do?

We can engage more deeply now, not without the past and just as surely for a future.  We can answer to the powers of memory and create with imagination and actions to place at risk more deliberately the very humanity we seek--- so that we do not forget what it takes to be more humane and seize upon our chances to act.  I do not wish to transcend our possibilities, for worse and for better, but to initiate by looking into the face of what has been and what is.  I can still dream and I can bring those dreams into the world.  What will we dream?

We might do well by first not pretending to some kind of awareness “beyond the mind” or indulging the claim that these feelings are somehow less because we do not yet fully fathom ourselves.  Everything does not happen for the best.  Few certainties serve us as well as the uncertainty that we will not fathom fully this life.  Let not the irony be lost on us.  We can work to nurture more of that uncertainty as we try to understand more deeply what is.  I cannot wish to go beyond mind or heart, well aware just how temporary is this body that provides our gifts.  Rather, I can wish to engage the all of it, for all that life is and is not offering.  What then can we create?  How can we start again?  Reach out.  Don’t wait.  Act.

A friend put the matter to me this way, with the luminous advice of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Citing another element of his memoir upon mortality, Hitchens in redolent self-awareness reminds us, as he does himself, to never let pass how,

---the stupendous importance of love, friendship, and solidarity -- has been made immensely more vivid to me by recent experience.  I can't hope to convey the full effect of the embraces and avowals, but I can perhaps offer a crumb of counsel.  If there is anyone known to you who might benefit from a letter or a visit, do not on any account postpone the writing or the making of it. The difference made will almost certainly be more than you have calculated.

Far be it from me to deny the healing found in whatever consolations serve others.  But I mean to take Hitchens at his word: my concerns are for a life that seeks more rather than less from this world and from each other.  We are most assuredly each other’s keepers in this realm of human possibilities.  What we create depends on how we stand for one another, how we learn from the all that life presents.  How then shall we keep one another?

It won’t be by wishing things were otherwise or somehow claiming that a better world awaits us when.  Hope may well be about then, but it is surely also about now.  It is a power we create to place a value upon life and a future worthy of our abilities.  

There is no place I wish to arrive that will make this memory now so present less a grief etched ever into my heart.  But I am hopeful that memory will too create a more willing actor to bring about change.  Whatever “whole” we may feel part of or believe we belong to, it will never serve poorly to remember that how we remember creates who we become and that these feelings can remind us to act because we can, now and for the future.  I mean willfully to trespass upon this certainty that all is far from well so that we might feel the urgency and have the mettle to make a better life, uncertain and hopeful, at once human.