For the second time in just a few short months, we've been drawn to our televisions by a tragedy too horrific to even fully grasp. Once more, we learn of the loss of a child, one who was only 8. And as I write this on Tuesday evening, a second fatality of the bombings in Boston has been identified, a young woman who was a child to her mother.
I'm an author and pretty good, really, at putting words together. I have thousands of readers now, which I mention here only to underscore my first statement. I'm pretty good at putting words together. And yet I don't know if I can adequately convey to you what it is to lose a child.
For those of us who are mothers, we who carried our babies under our hearts for nine months, our baby remains our baby, in a very real if emotional sense, always.
It's tragic when the victims of these senseless acts of violence are children, not yet even teens. But every life is precious, and every person lost was at one time a newborn babe held in his or her mother's arms.
And every death, every life ended by violence of any kind, is the loss of someone's baby.
It's the hardest thing in the world to endure, the loss of a child. It's unnatural. We're not supposed to bury or children. And yet, some of us do.
When your child has died you miss him or her every day for the rest of your life. The raw and bleeding wound of loss does scar over, eventually. You can remember the good times without shattering into a million pieces, eventually.
But at first the grief and the pain are so immense you don't know how you can manage to live through them. And yet you do live through them. The initial shock of having that knock at the door, of hearing that news, is very much like being stabbed in the heart. It is a sharp, jagged tear to your flesh, a burning, raging fire in your soul.
Almost immediately, there are details to be seen to, and ritual to be observed. Numbness descends and you find yourself going through the motions, taking that next step, doing that next thing. You have a list, and a schedule, and you don't think, you just do.
Sometimes those first few days and those rituals are like escaping into a bubble, where as long as you have something to do, the agony, and the reality, are held at bay. You can't fall apart; you have to take care of your child.
It is the last thing you will ever be able to do for him or her.
Then of course comes that awful moment, when the ritual is over and you are left alone with your loss. You fall apart then, because you know that it's over: the nine months of gestation, the pain and joy of delivery; the birthday cakes, and the report cards and the Christmas mornings.
They are gone, forever.
If you're a person of faith then you do take comfort in the knowledge that death is not the end; you'll see your child again, in God's presence. And in time, the pain dulls, so that you can remember the good times and the bad, and fall apart less often. You can remember, and you can smile.
But the hole that is in your heart is never filled, and that sense that something is missing in your life is constant. And when you watch your television and hear of the loss of someone else's baby, you ache for them.
Because you know, and in a sense that defies logic, for a space of time, you are them.
You've heard it said, I am sure, that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. My problem is I can't tell the difference. I am constantly, even eagerly, slotting folks into that last category. I'm like an excited little puppy all wound up having someoneor several someone'snew in my lifea puppy who gets all frisky and happy and bounces back and forth as if saying, "Wanna play? Wanna play?" Then when things happenthings that seem inexplicable to me, things that leave me wondering what I could possibly have done wrong, I'm left broken hearted because those people turn and walk away with no backward glance whatsoever and I am left feeling totally and completely bereft.
I'm beginning to suspect that the only thing I keep doing wrong is slating people into the "lifetime" category who never should have been there in the first place. I've only begun to realize this flaw in my previous behavior because the ones I have now in that "lifetime" slot were the ones meant to be there all along.
I know I can't be the only person this has happened to. Life has taught me that very, very few of us ever experience something that no one else ever has. I've had a number of traumatic and tragic things happen in my lifetime. I know that probably most of you have, too. At some point, maybe twenty years ago or so, I came to the decision that if life really was only 5 percent what happened to me and 95 percent how I dealt with it, then I'd better see if I could deal with things in a way that would be beneficial to others, and therefore beneficial to myself.
Yes, that's another variation of making lemonade out of lemons.
Because I am, down to my soul, a writer, then dealing with things in a beneficial way meant I had to write about them. Those who can look beyond the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of my novels will discover that I deal with a lot of issues that many of us struggle with in life. What I don't deal with that way, I manage to tackle within the pages of these essays, every week.
Life is a journey and like any long trip, not all of it is made over smooth roads. Sometimes we have to travel the gravel side roads, and sometimes we find ourselves on deeply rutted dirt trails. Sometimes we're making our way in the company of good companions, and sometimes we are achingly alone.
Everyone has to define the terms under which they want to live their lives. We each of us have our own priorities, and we're not all the same. We aren't all given to the same purposes or causes; we don't define happiness or sadness in exactly the same way. We really are unique, each one of us. We share a common humanity, yes, and a common spectrum of possibilities, but the fine points, the details, are different for us all.
As I've gotten older, as more milestones have gone by my personal window on this, my life's journey, I understand as I never did before how self sufficient we are, and at the same time, how isolated we are.
I believe that we were created to help one another. Do you want to have a good, really good, feeling inside of yourself? Then take your eyes off yourself and help someone else. Do you want to feel as if you matter? Then matter to othersdo something that makes a difference either to an individual or a group.
Are you the only one who has ever made a horrible mistake, lost someone dear, or suffered an injury to your body or your soul? Of course not. We all have. Is every day a day of joy and laughter and all things positive and light?
If only. Nope, there are at least as many dark days as there are light ones in anyone's life; the difference lies in how we rate them. I personally give happy, sunny days a 5 rating, and the gloomy, sad ones a 0.5 one.
Oh yes, that is stacking the deck in my favor, but then I can do that if I want to. Because the most important principle I have learned in life says I can. What is that principle? Gosh, I am glad you asked.
It's that, in the final analysis, everything emotionaland I do mean everythingis a decision. How you handle the firestorms that come your way, is a decision.
Life doesn't control your heart or your mind or your soul. You do.