It has been seven days since the communities of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, were rocked by tragic shootings that ended and forever altered lives, families and neighborhoods. The process of grieving is slow but has already begun with candlelight vigils and community gatherings. Funerals are soon to follow.
Collective grieving is important in our nation’s darkest hours and should be the beginning of the journey toward brighter days.
University of Houston research professor Brené Brown wisely challenged her readers to “Show up for collective moments of joy and pain so we can actually bear witness to inextricable human connection.” Collective human connection through gathering, in celebration or sorrow, is the fabric that binds individuals to each other, to their communities and to important institutions.
Jennie Taylor, widow of Utah Maj. Brent Taylor who was killed in Afghanistan just nine months ago, has experienced the power and importance of such public grieving. In a radio interview this week she said, “It was a really powerful moment for me when I realized that people in my community, people around town, people in the state weren’t just mourning for me, because they heard of Brent’s death. They genuinely were mourning with me.”
Taylor expressed compassion, saying, “To think of these people who’ve lost people in Texas and Ohio, and to have the grief process be so public — it’s something that’s so personal, so private, it’s so deep, it’s so internal. And yet it’s so public, because people all around the country and around the world are mourning with them.”
There is a softening that comes in the midst of public sorrow and suffering. Abraham Lincoln engaged in such moments and filled them with opportunities to summon “the better angels of our nature” and inspire the nation to a better cause and a more peaceful path for the country.
In the polarizing and contemptuous rhetoric of today, the difficulty is transforming trying times into better days. It is easier to dwell in anger and bitterness than to seek solace and strengthen neighbors.Comment on this story
Taylor continued, “Sometimes some of my kids will get a little bit worn out. You want to go home, you want to hide, you don’t want to share your grief, you don’t want to share. And at one recent event my teenage son said, ‘well, couldn’t you just say no, we’re not available?’ And I said, ‘Lincoln, if someone calls me and says we would like to honor you and your family, I can’t say no to that, because I know they’re not honoring us, or Brent, or our family alone. But they’re honoring what we now have this surreal opportunity to represent: servicemen and women, families of the military, throughout the country and throughout time.’ So we’ve tried to find ways to take our grief. And just like Viktor Frankl said, find some purpose in it, some meaning to your pain.”
Mourning with those who mourn — “crying with strangers in person,” as Brown puts it — is our duty as members of the human family. It is also incumbent upon everyone to find meaning in this shared moment of national sorrow and to act in their own sphere of influence to make the world a better place. In that way, mourning in America will lead to a morning in America.