A small, quintessential New England village.
This is a place where people respectfully live their days in community, readily giving assistance when it is asked for, folks who resist prying, a town spacious enough to allow for, and celebrate, differences.
The glue here is a particular small-town pride for simple, abiding ceremonies that mark the changing of the seasons, the passing of another year, and a deep belief in personal freedom nurtured by shared ethics.
Newtown...now devastated by the incomprehensible violence of last Friday morning at the Sandy Hook Elementary school.
What can any of us do but sit with the myriad voices of suffering and pain, not clinging to, and yet not pushing away, whatever is present? Later, when we have clarity, we can take some action that helps integrate our loss, both individually and collectively.
Until then, I dedicate my heart to the practice of just being.
For all those in the depths of despair and loss, including myself, I recognize the intense guilt and confusion the parent of a mentally ill child grapples with daily, and I recognize the suffering child, disturbed, a misfit, forever marginalized by mental illness, finding little or no relief for murderous, abhorrent urges and actions.
For the unimaginable pain of a parent's loss of a beautiful little child, here for such a short time, ripped from the family circle, and the obsessive question that remains in this void, Why couldn't I protect her? How will we ever continue?
The pain of heroes who may never erase the nagging thought that perhaps they could have done more, and the pain of would-be heroes who arrived only seconds too late to save anyone, but who became different types of heroes in bearing witness to the crime scene.
The pain of those who survived, those who were escorted from the school, and those of us who watched from all around the world, knowing that no one, not one soul, will ever be the same.
We are all changed by such monumental suffering.
Friday night at twilight, I lit candles and offered incense at the outdoor Buddha in our garden. I left a candle burning in the stone lantern at the garden gate.
My intention was to ring the bell 28 times, but the first strike was timid. Barely a sound emitted from the bell.
I raised the wooden mallet to try again, but hesitated.
A voice inside said, "What the hell is that wimpy sound? Ring the bell like you mean it! Let everyone hear it!"
With each strike, the bell reverberated, shattering the silence. In my hand the mallet vibrated like something alive, until I felt as if I was striking in anger, in retaliation and retribution and the bell became a massive wave of raw and universal loss.
I walked away after the 28th ring, leaving the bell behind.
I thought, "All over the world tonight, there will be human atrocities perpetrated over and over again...but there will also be undying love and wonder that will ignite the mysterious, indestructible heart of compassion...how can this all be?"
All weekend, I sat with that anger and the desire to retaliate in some way, mixed with the desire to truly act through the Bodhisattva vow to liberate all suffering beings! And finally, feeling tenderness, compassion and gratitude for a place in the human heart that can somehow hold everything at once, all thoughts, words and deeds, no matter what.
Truly, no matter what.
But my question still reverberates like the bell...how can this all be?