I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that God may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. [From Psalm 77]
As we have listened to stories of violence, tragedy, and suffering from Orlando, I’ve been drawn to these verses. Their words describe a raw truth. Like the psalmist, we find that comfort is hard to come by. Perhaps comfort is even impossible as our souls naturally turn away from it. We instinctively know that comfort takes time. Rushing to create internal peace can short circuit soulful healing.
We can’t be comforted because a very evil act was committed against innocent people. And if we, as a country, are troubled, we can only imagine the depth of pain for those who were involved, and for those whose lives have been forever altered.
We should not be too quick to expect people (including ourselves) to feel “better” after a tragedy. The inability to be comforted at such a time illuminates the humanity imbedded in our souls. Reaching out to each other may offer some bit of peace, even early on, because two souls together have the ability to hold more tenderness than one can hold alone.
Sometimes we move toward comfort when we work for peace and justice. That work may involve different things for different people at different times. After this particular tragedy, we’ve all been moved to see people making peace by sharing stories and hugs. We’ve heard of Christian and Muslim congregations gathering together in order to mourn the shooting while demonstrating that we can never ascribe to an entire religion a propensity to be violent and evil because of a few who commit evil acts. We’ve honored and reached out to the LGBT community and the Latino community after being targeted for no other reason than who they are. We’ve watched the news as more people—including many in congress—express the hope and determination that we can slow or stop the sale of assault-style weapons, and at least diminish gun violence.
I read a story that shows the hope of comfort, even if it hasn’t yet come. The grandmother of Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, one of those killed at Pulse in Orlando, was flown on a Jetblue flight to that city for his funeral. A flight attendant thought it would be nice to get signatures of willing passengers on a piece of paper expressing condolences, and started circulating a page at the back of the plane. Attendants whispered to passengers what was going on. Soon another piece of paper was needed. Then another. And another. When the flight was over, many pages were handed to the grandmother. Fellow passengers had written paragraphs of comfort, love, and hope. Will she gather comfort from them today? Maybe a bit. But she has these kind words to touch, digest, put away, take out again, read in bits and pieces, read in one sitting. To keep as tangible expressions of love.
Comfort? We must allow ourselves and others to feel whatever we need to feel when we need to feel it. Eventually, comfort may come when we lean on each other and gently care for one another.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier