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.