Now more than ever, we need each other to share the pain
The most moving address on Sunday night at the interfaith ceremony at Newtown, Connecticut, was a prayer sung beautifully in Hebrew by a rabbi. All the other representatives of the other faiths spoke poignantly also, joining in the acknowledgment: “Now, more than ever, we need each other.”
Barack Obama sat among the people of Newtown for an hour or so until it was his turn to speak and I suspect I was not alone among the world television audience in wondering how he could credibly join in a memorial ceremony for the massacre of 20 five- and six-year-old children, since he had been the agent of bringing massacre to thousands of children in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere over the last four years. But he did, magnificently.
He opened by quoting from one of the most celebrated and repeated Christian texts, the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”
He said: “I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world too has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone.”
He spoke of the teachers who were also killed in the massacre: “Dawn Hocksprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Russeau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy, they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances, with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.”
Speaking of the community of Newtown, he said: “In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another.”
Speaking of the vulnerability parents feel for their children and how, almost from their very beginning, children will grow away and how parents cannot always be there for them, he said: “It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realise no matter how much you love these kids you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbours, the help of a community and the help of a nation. And in that way we come to realise that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.”
We are all dependent on others
Of course his words could have applied as eloquently to the parents and siblings of the children massacred in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Iraq.
But they have a more general message, one which the prevailing culture that informs our minds, our responses, and our politics denies: how we are all dependent on others, how everything we do, everything we achieve, is done through and with others: the protection of our children, the protection of ourselves, the milieu in which we grow, in which we are happy or unhappy, in which we seek fulfilment, in which we seek a livelihood, in which we seek success and very often suffer failure. It is all through community. It is also so that now, more than ever, we need each other.
But that culture which has invaded the sinews of our minds ordains otherwise: that we are individuals, that whatever we achieve is done just by ourselves, that life is a competitive endeavour in which we succeed at the expense of others and vice versa, and that what we get by way of income and wealth is the product of our effort and genius alone.
But when times of trauma and distress arise we suddenly realise how much we depend on one another, the extent to which more than ever we need each other.
And isn’t that true of our country in distress now? That more than ever we need each other to share the pain, to protect our children; and that whatever measure of comfort we can provide each other we will provide.
So what is it about our politics that denies this? Not rhetorically but in practice? How is it OK for us not to look out for each other, to deny how we need each other and how we are dependent on each other? How does a budget get framed that desecrates the very idea of community, of co-dependence?
How does a group of 15 Ministers, most of whom in their ordinary lives are decent, generous people, devise a budget that impacts hardly at all on themselves or the likes of themselves and the likes of even more privileged people than themselves, and yet causes such pain and hardship to those dependent, for instance, on child benefit and on the respite care grant? And then take credit for so doing?