A little turn or two

by | Jan 28, 2020 | 3 comments

“In our deepest self we keep living with the illusion that we will always be the same.” Henri Nouwen

In the wake of Sunday’s tragedy, I found my mind instinctively doing something it did when I got my own “phone call” and tragic news—trying to figure out a way to turn back time and prevent this. How could someone, nine people, be here in the morning with years ahead of them and then be gone? The mind strains and squints to comprehend.

 “How easily could God, if He so willed,

Set back the world a little turn or two!

Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!”

writes Edna St. Vincent Millay in her poem, “Interim.”

Somehow the small units of time separating “before” and “after”—the minutes, hours, even days—make it seem plausible. But they are unstoppable, nonnegotiable, even un-prayable. Those final moments sicken our spirits, but they are over too.

The loved ones of those lost have a long and arduous climb in front of them. Every grief is so unique, I wouldn’t pretend to imagine what it will be like for each of them. And we are left with our temporarily shattered illusion that we have “time.” That, as Nouwen says—we, our lives, and the people in it—”will always be the same.” May we not be too quick to sweep up the fragments…to let them stay shattered for as long as we can.


January 28, 2020


  1. Beth

    You are such a gifted writer. I have been following your writing for years. You helped me so much in my early days as a widow raising young children. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts. Your daughter is truly blessed to have you as her mom.

    • JAC

      Thank you, Beth. It means so much to me to feel useful in some way. I’m sure you’ve done an amazing job mothering. I salute you for all the hidden work you’ve done.

  2. MAA

    Thank you for sharing, Julia.

    Here’s what I said in an essay I wrote in the spirit of writing as therapy and for a select few about a personal loss I experienced just over a decade ago: “If only I, a mere mortal, could turn back the hands of time and let that split second pass you and your family by – uneventfully, peacefully.” We, the survivors, are members of a club that no one ever wants to belong to, a fitting reference I’ve seen on more than one occasion, e.g., http://www.aliveinmemory.org/2014/09/27/the-club-nobody-wants-to-belong-to/#.XjEr2sgzbIU

    I find the Buddha’s “Five Remembrances” helpful.

    I am of the nature to grow old.
    There is no way to escape growing old.
    I am of the nature to have ill-health.
    There is no way to escape having ill-health.
    I am of the nature to die.
    There is no way to escape death.
    All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to
    change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
    My actions are my only true belongings.
    I cannot escape the consequences of my actions.
    My actions are the ground on which I stand.

    Translated by Thích Nhất Hạnh

    Also relevant and implicit in some of what you wrote is this powerful quote by Khalil Gibran: “Life is weaker than death, and death is weaker than love.”


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