Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Thanksgiving: Compassion For Those Who Mourn

Happy Thanksgiving! May God bless you all, especially those of you who may not feel very happy this year, who perhaps may even find it difficult to be thankful, who are struggling, who are just wondering, "Why?"
 Let me make clear that this is not intended to be a "blue" post. I am writing about this precisely because of my faith that, in the end, gratitude is something true. I believe that we can take the risk of being grateful in our lives because we know that our lives are real, and that they are leading toward something that endures. This is what makes it possible for us to say "Happy Thanksgiving" even in circumstances that are hard; to say it and really mean it, to understand that it is not just a cruel joke on ourselves and others.

I have much to be thankful to God for, and I hope we all do. But we should remember that for many, many people, Thanksgiving and other family holidays are not "happy" -- at least not in the conventional sense of the sentiments conveyed by the greetings and well-wishing that we exchange on these days.

Many people are suffering on this Thanksgiving Day.

And we shouldn't think that these people are so far away. Holidays can cause much pain simply because of the loss of people who are no longer here to celebrate them with us. When the holiday comes, what strikes many people is the memory of a happiness they once had on these days, year after year after year, with another person or persons who are no longer here: a husband or wife, a father, a mother, a child or a brother or sister, or aunts and uncles, cousins and friends.

They're gone.

If someone thinks that there is nothing but this world and this present life, it is truly unbearable to be reminded again, in such a concrete way, of this terrible absence, of loved ones lost seemingly forever. What can people do? They may flee to distraction (maybe this is one the reasons for so much shopping -- it's trying to fill a hole). Or reduce themselves by cynicism. Or they try to stay human, but how?

They just weep.

They bleed from hearts that they allow to be wounded... again!

And they want to tear out their hearts from their breasts and lift them up to the cold, shining, dead stars and cry out, "I'M SORRY! THIS IS JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!"

"I love that person. I want that person. They are gone, but I still want, I still love! Please...."


For those of us who believe in eternal life, the separation from those we love does not cease to be a tremendous suffering (even when that suffering is suffused by the dawning light of hope). We want the person we love to be present with us. We want to see them in front of us, next to us. Why must we endure this fracture, this disconnection that has taken them away from us?

This is an enormous suffering; it is an experience that convinces us that God did not make death, and even as our faith tells us that death has been swallowed up in victory, we know also that it is a victory of suffering love, and sometimes our experience comes very close to those who can only weep and cry out from wounded hearts in the darkness.

This does not come from doubt. It comes from the depths of love.

Love Himself has cried out from a wounded heart that bore the whole weight of this mystery that is "absence". And He has that wound forever in His glorified heart.

On this day, therefore, we reach out to those who carry such sorrow. We want to console them, and we know that there is no cheap way to do it. The only way is to be willing to suffer with them, in whatever way we can. Even if it is only a very small way.

When we say, "Happy Thanksgiving" to one another today, let us do so with compassion.