In June, 2000 my husband and I had the joy and pleasure of taking a nine year old boy to New York to see the sights. Really, though, our purpose was to comfort a beloved child who was silently grieving the death of family life as he’d known it - his parents were divorcing. He needed our stability and assurance that all was not lost...
And because Ben has an especially tender heart for animals, on a warm summer afternoon we ventured into the Central Park Zoo. Our most delightful discovery was the habitat for polar bears. At the time there were two - Gus and Lily. We smiled and laughed, unexpectedly entertained by Gus and his antics. He swam and performed as he bumped repeatedly against the transparent walls that contained him. Gus had a large, self-assured personality that conveyed a certain indolent joy at just being alive.
There was news last week about Gus. It was reported that he’d been suffering physically for a while and that the decision had been made to euthanize him. A real sadness washed over me as I thought about this large, adorable white polar bear, so full of life and raw energy. I paused to grieve his death and remember a time when, for a few brief moments, Gus engaged the heart of a small, hurting boy and created a sweet memory for life. Gus gave good gifts - his life was indeed well-lived.
This week as we again commemorate the events of 9/11/2001, many of us will pause to grieve the people and places and ideals that were lost to us on that horrible, fateful day. For those of us who were there – in New York, in Washington, in Shanksville - we grieve anew our collective and personal losses, as though it were only yesterday. The scope and magnitude of our enduring national grief never could have been imagined - in a single hour all of life changed forever. As we grieve loved ones who died and those who survive, we grieve, too, the loss of our national innocence, the time when suspicion was less at the forefront of everyday life, when travel was not about vigilance and scrutiny, when there was more trust in ourselves and in others.
In our grief for one we love, we find we're more attuned to the meaning of loss, both personal and large-scale. We pause to grieve alongside others in quiet solidarity when we read the obituaries, whispering a prayer for comfort and strength even as we do for ourselves. The impulse to pause and grieve for that which passes away from our life, whether it touches us at our core or more on the periphery of our daily existence, is a God-given enrichment of our grief.
When we grieve that which is beyond ourselves, that which is larger than our own lives, we're blessed by a sense of universal community with God - the giver of all life - at its heart and very soul. And so we pause to grieve - we remember, we honor those who are lost to us in death, we give thanks for miracle of life and the wonder of eternal, everlasting love.
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.
Psalm 116:15 NRSV
Keep me this day, O Lord, in the sanctity of your comfort. Amen.