Sunday, April 21, 2013

So costly a sacrifice

I grieve for Officer Sean Collier. One can hardly imagine a more dedicated, a more stalwart, more Boston cop. Human beings are made to feel the loss of the young most keenly, and this was a young man – not yet a husband or father. He died his mother’s baby, as only an Irish mother’s son can be. Though my grief for Officer Collier cannot approximate the grief of his family, my grief is not abstract; by no means of the character of some news anchor "sending out" his obligatory “thoughts and prayers.”  I know this pain precisely. I know it well; have known it nearly all my life.

But of course I did not know Officer Collier. I’ll almost certainly never meet anyone who did. Likewise the little boy too like my own to bear much thinking about; nor the vivacious waitress who was her grandmother’s unreserved favorite; nor the promising and pretty young student who traveled half a world to study where she died. I do know that none of them began that day knowing it would be the last day.

I do believe my prayers for their families and for the scores of the maimed and shattered are efficacious. But I am too poor a Christian – I confess it, Lord – to let it end there.  I do not want my sentiments, however deep, to be “weak and fruitless.” I have no wish to beguile anyone from this grief.* Instead – and I sense I am not alone in this – I long to know what I can do that will honor these lost and broken lives, this costly sacrifice.

Here’s what I've come up with so far:

I can seek the truth, demand the truth, and face the truth about how these lives were sundered, and I can see that truth told in every corner.

I can resist anyone and anything that would shape these lives into a fulcrum upon which to lever an agenda of repression, or that would reduce them to a “crisis not to be wasted.”

I can be ready and trained and able and – most important – willing to be the man in the cowboy hat.

I can rededicate to vigilance and scorn complacency, so that insofar as I can be, I am an effective sheepdog to the flock I love.

I can make my last words before parting from family each day so sweet that if they should ever turn out to be my last words altogether, neither I nor they will ever have a moment’s regret for them.

I can rejoice at the end of each day that finds us under the same roof, whole and hopeful and together, recognizing that routine miracle for the daily gift that it is.

I can cast out fear, I can refuse to bow to terror, and I can oppose the oppression of any man, while at the same time I find the floor with my knees, surrendering to the only One who deserves my submission, embracing His sovereignty.

That – at least that – I can do.

* In what my particular friend has called “the greatest specimen epistolary prose ever written on the American continent,” Abraham Lincoln wrote the following letter to a grieving mother:

Executive Mansion, Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.
Dear Madam,
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
A. Lincoln

Controversies about who wrote the Bixby Letter are of no interest to me here. Whoever wrote the letter, it stands.

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