Precarious

Walking home in a grey foggy funk (literally and metaphorically) yesterday morning after trekking Jonah off to school, I came across this precarious balancing act:

precarious 1precarious 2precarious 4precarious 7

Weighing down a power line and unsupported by any other means it both frightened and fascinated me. Only later did I think how these images do a decent job of representing my reaction and feelings in the wake of the Sandy Hook calamity (from the late Middle English amalgamation of “disaster and distress”).

I turn to images when I am unable find the words to say, when the words I use do nothing but trifle. I’ve started at least three posts in an attempt to get at it—what I want to say to my family and my friends, to the families of the children and teachers killed, to Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy, to Adam himself (Nancy was actually omitted from several lists of the victims, which I find indefensible. Slate published an article about it HERE). All I have are images. The words that do come to mind are references to other stories or snippets of text, all touching on our human community and the way that a single action spreads its effect—the way in which we all must accept responsibility, collectively and individually, for tragedy. For this tragedy. I am reminded of Rachel,weeping for her children:

Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”  Jeremiah 31:15

In the Gospel of Matthew, this verse is interpreted as a prediction of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great as he ventured to find and kill the baby Jesus. On the far, far side of this heart-breaking irony—but also at its very center—is the essence of what Christians are celebrating when they keep the feast of Christmas after the 40 day fast of the Nativity: God with us. I came across this quote from Judith Butler’s Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, which seems particularly apt:

Whether or not we continue to enforce a universal conception of human rights at moments of outrage and incomprehension, precisely when we think that others have taken themselves out of the human community as we know it, is a test of our very humanity.

That’s what I mean when I refer to our collective and individual responsibility. Did Adam do the unforgivable? Should forgiveness even be up for discussion? This is easy talk for me. I lost no one. My immediate community has not been ravaged in such a violent manner. But my response matters, as your response matters. Not only for the people affected by the actions of Adam Lanza, but for anyone suffering. Which means us all. As Dorothea speaks it in the BBC adaptation of George Eliot’s Middlemarch (taken not quite directly from the book):

Sometimes I wake very early, go out alone, and imagine I can hear the cries of all the scurrying creatures in the grass. There’s so much suffering in the world. I think of it as a kind of muffled cry on the other side of silence. If our senses were sharp enough to apprehend it all, I think the pain of it would destroy us. I think we should be glad we are not too sensitive. We work in any small way we can to help our fellow creatures.

I think Dorothea would agree completely with Jane Addams (the pacifist social worker and founder of Hull House in Chicago) when she said:

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.

I’ve said too much already, much more than I meant. It comes of a chronic need to get to the sense of things. It’s why I’ve started and failed to finish three posts on the subject. It’s also why I keep trying.

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3 thoughts on “Precarious

  1. The world needs people trying. Trying to get at the sense of things. All of the discussion I have seen about guns and gun rights lately makes me feel as though I am an alien species looking at humanity from some stunned inability to comprehend. Our governor wants to arm children, and, for me, Seamus Heaney sums it up well.

    Once and only once I fired a gun –
    A .22. At a square of handkerchief
    Pinned on a tree about sixty yards away.
    It exhilarated me – the bullet’s song
    So effortlessly at my fingertip,
    The target’s single shocking little jerk,
    A whole new quickened sense of what rifle meant
    And then again as it was in the beginning
    I saw the soul like a white cloth snatched away
    Across dark galaxies and felt that shot
    For the sin it was against eternal life
    Another phrase dilating in new light.

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