When I teach religion classes, I teach the children that our prayers are really just like magic words to God - the same magic words we say to everyone else, "Thank you", "Please", and "I'm sorry". "I love you" is a prayer too. But I've learned this week that saying I'm sorry is so much more profound. I am so sorry for those families affected by the violence in Connecticut. We mourn with those who mourn, we cry with those who cry, we pray with those who pray. I can't imagine what the people of Newtown are going through. I don't know why or how or what to say. The only consolation I have is this, that in the time of great need we are lifted up. I am so so sorry.
On Friday morning I found myself in a little chapel for mass. I hadn't planned to go. It just happened. The feast day was that of St. John of the Cross, and whatever your faith, there was an important lesson there that carried me through the news that would come later that day. It's odd that in the midst of the Christmas season we think about suffering and sorrow. We ought to be rejoicing, we may think. Yet there is a gift in sorrow, the priest said. In suffering we are brought together; we are consoled in our humanity, and we reach out and are connected to others who need us. This was his homily. I had no idea that one hour later this point would be made by a man, a very young man, who seems so absolutely disconnected from us and our humanity.
Those poor babies in the classroom - I can't imagine. But this is what I choose to believe. That they were carried by angels, our prayers and our love, and didn't feel any pain. I know that when the news first came that something had happened to my brother, I was able to be calm and to do what I had to do. I didn't focus on the pain, I just began to go through the motions. In the days that followed and led to his funeral, there was an amazing sense of peace that carried me through. At the funeral I felt it most strongly and I know now what it was. It was the love of the people around me that made the experience surreal. It was the people who said, "I'm sorry". It was the people who said, "I love you". They were magic words. In the midst of that extraordinarily hard time, call it surrealneass, call it shock, I felt separated from the pain, immune to the heartache, and I hope, I believe, that those children did too. They were not in the room with that man, they had gone to a different place already and as they looked around their bright and happy classroom they thought about their blocks and their books and their stuffed animals, because their teacher seems like the kind of teacher who brought so much love into her room. They thought about the gingerbread houses they would make that afternoon and they thought about their parents coming that afternoon to celebrate. They did not know pain or grief because they were too young, thank God, to even comprehend what was in their midst. They remained innocent in their hearts and were surrounded by the love of the people who loved them most.
We mourn with those who mourn, we celebrate with those who celebrate. It seems impossible to celebrate now. It's hard to draw on any joyful energy when our hearts are broken. Yet for my children and for those children, we do. We will celebrate and we will keep on praying and keep on crying too. They are all gifts of the season. In our deepest pain, there is a human connection and the magic words that we were taught in first grade still work, we are so sorry. We love you and we share your pain.