Looking For Hope In Tragedy’s Wake

universe, milky way, creation, holy presence

universe, milky way, creation, holy presenceFaith is introduced in daylight. But it actually becomes faith in the darkness, where we find ourselves vulnerable to every doubt and desire.

Eventually, when the darkness fades, we grow in confidence and the roots of our faith go deeper.

I learned that profoundly eight years ago this month when my youngest child received her high school diploma at the most powerful graduation ceremony I have witnessed. Let me back up from that moment about a week.

Where would you go just a few days after a terrible, unimaginable tragedy took one of the most important people in your life? I know how I would like to answer that question; I’m not sure how I actually would respond in the specific situation that set me to wondering.

Remembering a Tragic Suicide

A young man who was a member of our parish took his own life May 14, 2009. He should have been celebrating the end of his high school days, spending one final carefree summer with friends, maybe kissing a girlfriend and hanging out with his buddies late into the night. He should have been looking forward to that frightening yet exhilarating freshman year in college. Instead, he felt despair for some reason, despair that led to immense tragedy.

And a few days after Ryan’s death, his mom and younger brother were at Sunday Mass.

Donna and I helped guide our four kids through a total of 16 years of what clearly could have been dangerous times. So much lurks in the shadows hell-bent on derailing teenagers. It was true in my day (way back in the Dark Ages) and is ever truer now.

But my kids made it. We made it because it indeed was a group effort, including family and friends, grandparents and teachers and strangers we never will get to thank.

We know that Ryan’s action could have touched our kids, too.

2nd Leading Cause of Death for Young People

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 suicide report, suicide ranked as the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States in 2013. It presented as the third-leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 14 and No. 2 for people ages 15-34. Suicide touched the lives of our friends and family intimately almost 25 years ago when Donna and my 19-year-old godson took his life.

That day still resonates as a surreal nightmare of a memory. And if suicide claimed one of my children, well …

Honestly, I don’t know. Would I first and foremost kneel before God in my church? Maybe. But would I be there with a spirit of hope, or would I kneel there angry and yelling at my God, questioning what kind of brother and friend Jesus actually is? My heart and soul raw from the darkness and pain as friends and strangers alike walk past me wondering what to do or say. Would I feel so vulnerable that I wouldn’t want to leave the house?

I can’t know for certain.

The presence of Ryan’s family in church that day was a powerful witness. As I prayed for them, I found myself praying with them as well: “God, we are hurting and afraid — and a little ticked off, too. We don’t know where to go or what to do. And so we are here among your people, people we know you sent to love us. And we are here seeking your Presence. Not because we know you will answer our questions or miraculously change what has happened. Instead, we are here because we don’t know where else to go.”

Several days later, Kara and her senior classmates donned blue and white graduation gowns and caps. One by one, their names were read in the booming voice of teacher Tim Richardson, and each stepped to the front of the large gathering, climbed a few steps and accepted a diploma along with handshakes from the principal and the school administrator. Now and then, one of the student’s friends or family members in the bleachers let out a “whoo-hoo!”

Hope Appeared in the Shadows

Eventually, Mr. Richardson read Ryan’s name. No one climbed the steps. No one took the diploma or shook hands with anyone. No one shouted.

During those moments of silence, during that time in darkness, everyone in the auditorium tried to adjust their mind’s eye. Everyone wanted to see a reason for what lurked in the shadows.

In a moment of getting in touch with our faith, we each tried to find a glimmer of hope. That’s when I remembered seeing Ryan’s family kneeling at Mass just a few day earlier.

And for me, for an instant, hope appeared.

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