I have been thinking a lot about horror lately. Not fun, B-movie horror, but bona-fide, can-comprehend-but-wish-I-couldn’t, awful, terrible horror.
The last ten years have somewhat inured me to horror. Not that I feel nothing about the endless wars, the shocking human rights abuses, the awfulness that is out there. Rather, these things have, sadly, become a part of my reality because they are reality. We (the US of A) declared war on terror and terror is fighting back. My mind has incorporated this into it’s map of the world. It’s not all right but it’s not a surprise.
Then came the terrorist attacks in Norway. Norway? My mind said. This guy went after kids? That can’t be right. I was horrified. Not because a bunch of affluent white kids being gunned down is any more horrific than a bunch of poor black kids dying of malnutrition or a bunch of Saudi protesters being tortured. It was just shocking, unexpected in a way that these other horrific realities are horrifically not.
A few days ago, I came across a story I would likely have heard of before if I had a TV or listened to talk radio. This guy in Michigan is on trial for the disappearance of his three sons. The story is awful. The father seems like a crazy, control-freak, scary guy. But what got me was their photo.
I am haunted.
Perhaps in part it is their wide-eyed resemblance to my son and his near-future selves, perhaps it is their apparent happiness and lack of fear, but something about this picture left me particularly horrified. More than that, though, is the realization that these boys are gone (perhaps forever) and there is nothing I can do about it. My heart goes out to their mother, who clings to the hope that they are secreted away somewhere, alive because to think anything else (until she has to) is just too much.
This has me thinking about what we do in circumstances like these, times when platitudes about ‘everything happening for a reason’ or ‘ God being in control’ just don’t cut it. There is no silver lining, nothing to be learned. There is nothing we can do.
It reminds me of working with war survivors in West Africa. Sometimes, the horror was so great, so overpowering, so incomprehensible, our approaches to ‘trauma counseling’ seemed not only inadequate but irrelevant.
These events, this terror, this awfulness is intolerable. But what are we to do? How can we help ourselves or others to cope in the face of the un-faceable?
There is a poem called The Invitation that speaks so well to the work I do. In it is the line,
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I have been thinking about this. I have been thinking that, sometimes–when we see a child starving, when we know of people imprisoned–we can and should act. We shouldn’t stop acting until something is done, something shifts. We should rail against inequity and injustice to the best of our abilities until the day we die.
Other times, after a man filled with hate and racist ideology murders scores of people, after a father is imprisoned for probably snuffing out three bright little lives, there really is nothing for us to do.
But to be with the pain. To see it and share it and let it be painful.
To honor these kids and their mothers and their memories with our tears.
And I want to know who will do that with me.