These last several days of coping with more needless bloodshed of innocent people cause us all to grieve in varying degrees. Surely the victims' loved ones are grieving the most at the gaping emptiness with which they are left. The rest of us are left to grieve for their immense sorrow and for the lack of a safe haven anywhere in our own country.
Having grieved my own cancer diagnosis on more than one occasion, my grief at this most recent loss of life has led me to this observation: When we grieve, what we are really grieving is our own helplessness. When faced with situations over which we have no control and which negatively and profoundly impact our very existence, we are helpless. Completely and utterly helpless. When we can find no safety from murderers in our elementary schools, or churches, or our community gathering places, we feel a sense of helplessness that both literally and figuratively pains us to our core.
There are no words or actions that will bring back a lost loved one. It is done. It is over. It is forever. This level of helplessness is surely the highest level of grief there is. Yet it doesn't end there.
Helplessness also comes with losing the ability to walk or speak, or with a lethal cancer diagnosis. We are helpless to prevent our family from disapproving of or disowning us because we are gay or lesbian or transgendered. We are helpless when our children turn against us, or grow away from us. Helplessness also comes with an unwanted divorce or being fired from a job; events over which we have no control because we cannot bend others to our will.
In all of these scenarios we are helpless to avoid the crippling event, in whatever form it takes. It comes unbidden; a scythe-like cut to the bone, a roaring flame that engulfs our spirit. Our only choice, which is no choice at all, is to move forward through the burning embers to the other side.
Helplessness is part of the human experience. From the moment we are born, as helpless infants, we learn to rely on others. As infants, we don't realize our own helplessness because others nurture and feed and clothe us. As adults, when faced with a helpless situation, other human beings come to our aid with love and support and kindness. Sometimes, that is all we need. And it is that love and compassion that eventually dissolves our feeling of helplessness and drags us across the abyss to a new day.
Confronting our own helpless feelings -- understanding them for what they are, feeling the emotion of them, and experiencing the sorrow those feelings bring -- are a necessary part of getting us to the next step, however slow and arduous the process may be. That next step is choice; the moment when we crest the wave of sorrow and are able to choose how we will respond to that which leveled us completely. And if we choose love over hate, joy over despair, action over inaction, and courage over fear, we will prevail in our own humanity.