Communal Grief
and Healing

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I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm –
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

There are plenty of articles out there exploring the whats, hows, and whys of the murder of three blossoming young Muslims, known as the #ChapelHillShooting. The first instinct for many of us is to “understand” or “find justice.” This intellectual desire invokes our brains in order to cauterize the pain in our hearts.

When we forcibly cover or remove grief with cognitive understanding, we numb our feelings and risk abandoning our selves. Traditionally, religious rituals slowed the rapid rhythm of our lives in order keep our wounds open long enough to be cleansed in a sacred space. When we skip over ritual and immediately pack our loss with news stories and heated debates and to-do lists, our grief festers with anger and fear and bitterness.

chapel hill shooting

So what happens when we resist the urge to look away from the pain? What happens when we resist the urge to fill the ache with anger? What happens when we stay with the loss?

Holding grief openly leads us towards compassion for others. Compassion depends on our ability to be in touch with our own yearnings and pain, which in turn expands our capacity to feel for others.

It is precisely this capacity to invite others in, to welcome the community’s aches, that validates and assuages our own personal grief. Communal grief provides the opportunity for each individual to achieve their own cathartic peak. The reverberations of the loss will still carry on, but the fervor purges enough of the anger, fear, and bitterness for healing to begin.

The two most potent thing we can do to heal as a community are

  • develop personal rituals to honor the departed and
  • honor ourselves by actively promoting compassion with others who are grieving.

With the support of our community, we can find compassion for those who took what we loved most. Compassion for the grieving families. Compassion for those who believe that there was nothing wrong with the act of taking. Compassion for our own culpability in the injustices buried in our systems.

In the case of the #ChapelHillShooting, the website ourthreewinners.org was developed as a platform for us to remember, grieve, and act together as a community. If this tragedy wounded your heart, please sign up for updates from the website and join us for the upcoming events in person.

We cannot go backward to a previous unconscious condition. We can go forward through the portal of Death, but we will step into that future carrying whatever spirit lives in us. This is what makes life so great: it is for keeps, it is on the level, absolutely serious. Everything we do makes a difference. Everything is important.

M.C. RichardsCentering (p. 42)

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