Yesterday morning, standing at the kitchen sink, the yard still in morning shadow, I saw light. The sky stood blue for the first time in weeks and sun pearled the clouds, making them brilliantly white along the edges.
I was down low near the yard where the shadow was.
The night before, I had read a woman's story about adopting two children from Ethiopia and how during her wait for them, she experienced deep, wrenching sadness over them. Later she found out the week she had been so broken for them was the week they had been moved to the orphanage -- a week of trauma.
Reading this story of a mother's grief over a child, grief over a child thrust into violence and broken there, unlocked me again. I had cried over Connecticut many times already. I had looked at those children fleeing the school with their eyes closed, sobbing, holding onto the shoulders of the child in front of them. I had read the heroic stories -- teachers who held doors shut, hid children in closets, were shot and killed and kept kids alive. The parents who waited for hours for their child to come out.
The tears wouldn't stop. I imagine so many mothers have climbed into bed with children this week to smell them and touch their hair and warm foreheads -- me too. I crawled into the bottom bunk next to Silas and pressed my cheek to his sleeping back, feeling it rise and fall as my hot tears leaked out. I stayed there a long time.
When I finally settled back in my bed, I felt something and reached down to pull it out -- it was one of Eden's hair clips. What if a mother in Connecticut had found a hair clip in her bed that night, too, but her child in the other room was gone?
Lying there, I let myself look at those children's faces, at the mothers and fathers trying to breathe in the dark, at the empty beds, at the Christmas presents already bought.
We grieve these twenty children, six adults, safe places invaded, violent sick perpetrators, danger.
Then I thought about our cities and the children who every night fear the gunshots they hear from their beds, fear the drug dealers next to the bus stop, the gangs in the hallways of their schools, who miss a father in jail, a brother who got shot last month. I thought of the children in beds across the country, in this neighborhood, around the world who are beaten. I thought of the thousands children massacred by machetes. The children who are raped every day for money. I thought of the children whose parents don't come home because of bombings in the street -- the monstrous acts of violence that penetrate our world. I thought of the 4 million people displaced in Syria. The Philippine families dying for food and water after the typhoon. The women being raped in the Congo's violence, the children there without homes or medicine.
The list does not end.
It is worth stopping to look. It is worth being sad, sickened.
This Christmas week my eyes feel heavy. Christmas cards papering my door frame say JOY JOY JOY! But standing in shadows of loss*, it is hard to remember that joy grows from the inside and can exist even as terror rattles the windows.**
Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth, God come to Earth under a bright star. If this is so, that God entered this earth in human form, Christmas also celebrates God removing Himself from untouchable realms to stand in a fleshy body on this dark earth where we live, and where he, the peacemaker, was brutally murdered, too.
In the Christmas story Jesus is named Immanuel. It means God with us. God who wept, who knows what it is to suffer, who weeps over our children, and the darkness we stand in, came to be with us.
He came to face terror -- real terror -- and to be killed. He came for the three days of silent despair that followed. He came here to die and then to beat death, to rise out of it and prove stronger. He came to redefine life and to give vision beyond all that we touch, hold, and lose. That, more than an infant in a manger, is what I am thinking about this Christmas -- the sight beyond what we lose.
As I've written this, snippets of psalm 23 have popped into my head, which makes me think of Nana, whom I'm missing this month. The day before she died as I said these words to her, her wordless face brightened. It was the first time I really tasted the darkness of that valley.
The words to that psalm:
The Lord is my Shepherd
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
*Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
**I will fear no evil
for you are with me,
Your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies
You anoint my head with oil,
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.