A journey that leads to pain

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.

Can anyone explain the pain of losing a child? Can anyone understand the torment that comes from the guilt associated with such a loss? Can anyone really explain the feeling of despair after realizing that a future has been destroyed? These questions come to the surface after the tragedy that we witnessed in Florida and elsewhere. Perhaps it was the same as we witnessed so many instances of innocent lives tragically ended for no reason.

The ancients taught that to appreciate the joy and fulfillment of life, we must experience pain. And what greater pain is there than for parents to lose the love and goodness that these sacrifices represent?

Life is filled with anticipation and expectations. We look at our child and begin to imagine and contemplate: Should this beautiful person be a doctor, or a teacher? Will the one we nurtured look like us? Will we make the same mistakes our parents made or will we be different? All of us pledge to be the very best parents we are capable of being.

Suddenly, these dreams and visions are interrupted by the act of a madman. Our child has died and so has part of our posterity. The romantic notions of success and abundance are lost in a tunnel of emptiness. We sink into the depths of dejections. Where is my little one? Why are there empty beds and empty places in our hearts? We are stunned and frozen. Everything moves around us, but we are motionless.

Is this what the ancients were trying to teach us when they talked about pain endurance? Must there be bereavement to appreciate life? Are not the young entitled to experience the durability associated with growth? All we have are questions, and more questions, and seemingly no answers.

I believe that our ancestors were trying to teach us how to cope with adversity, some so devastating as to cause us to languish in total sadness. I believe that the message is that terrible things happen, and we have the ability to overcome these troublesome experiences by learning to extend a helping hand, and to comfort, and to offer solace. This is our obligation as human beings. This is our duty as survivors.

I believe that the generations past were trying to teach us that there are so many painless possibilities in our lives that we are duty bound not to concentrate on pain. Many times I am asked what should we do? My answer is to turn to prayer and scripture, understanding that neither is designed to prevent tragedy, rather is offered as a way to learn the value and purpose of life.

Prayer is the simple way to vent our frustrations so that we will arrive at some method of understanding the difficulties we face. Scripture is designed to allow us the possibility to learn to cope and accept. When the Psalmist talks about “Walking through the Valley,” it is a clear definition of the truth that things do happen beyond our control, and yet we also know that a new day will arrive bringing us hope and a view of the future.

The poet wrote that life is not a matter of extent, but rather of content. So much life has been snuffed out, and yet we know that the content of their lives, as short as they were, can and should give us the strength to carry on. But, that is not enough.

We are left with the dilemma of concern for the future of our children, the flowers of our loins, the blessings of continuity and fulfillment. So many excuses have been made, so many offers of sentimental solutions. Instead of concentrating on eliminating weapons which will never happen, or teaching teachers to carry and discharge weapons which is madness, or placing armed guards in all of our institutions of learning which destroys the very fabric of freedom from fear as guaranteed by our Constitution, let us, perhaps consider the following:

Just as we have Marshalls on our flights to ensure our protection – unassuming and blending, why not consider the same process for the safety of our children? They will not cower when faced with life-threatening situations or hide from the efficiency of their training, but rather confront and offer the ability to survive. Thus, we will be assured and yet not appear to be armed fortresses. Once the word gets out that those who wish us harm will not succeed, perhaps it will diminish the threat.

Yes, prayer and scripture serve a very valuable aid in learning how to deal with tragedy, but being willing to turn to the need for protective efforts enables us to complete the task assigned to us by both scripture and prayer: To survive.

God will surely grant immortality to those we have lost, and He will look kindly upon our efforts to ensure the viability of our lives. This should be our prayer as we bury our dreams and aspirations embodied in the very treasures we have lost to madness and indifference.