Less than a week ago there was a tragedy in Arizona, six people were killed and eighteen wounded, when a lone gunman violently expressed himself. In response to the tragedy, President Obama delivered a memorial speech in Arizona, a speech, which I believe addresses our existential fears of death and loss of loved ones.
He spoke about the need for us to “expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
He went on to say, “After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?
So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children or our community and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”
Three of my family members have died in the past four years. At times I dazed and confused myself, at other times I avoided my feelings—contracting and distracting myself. Over time I have expressed my feelings, which change from month to month. I greatly comfort myself with President Obama’s words in the preceding paragraph. By looking back and reflecting on my relationships with those who died, I have been able to clarify and nurture my relationships with those people still in my life. As I recognize my own mortality, I spend less time regretting my fallibility, and more time making the most of what time I have on this earth.
I encourage people who are struggling with the loss of loved ones, to spend some time absorbing the meaning of the President’s words. I find great wisdom and simplicity in his message.
Jake, I move myself by reflecting on Obama’s words. Thank you for your personal reflection, it allows me to open up myself to my own path in this. Before I go further, I commend to you David Brook’s piece in the NYT of Jan. 13 . I found it a humbling piece that has led me to begin forming a new point of view. He completes his column with a quote from Reinhold Niebuhr: In a famous passage, Reinhold Niebuhr put it best: “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. … Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”
Bruce—thanks for the reference to David Brooks column, which can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/14/opinion/14brooks.html?_r=1
My favorite line of Brook’s is, “The truth is fragmentary and it’s impossible to capture all of it.” I sense his words to be very personal, written with the humility that he is talking about in his editorial. And I love the Reinhold Niebuhr quote.