My cousin Kathy keeps me informed of things back in what my kids jokingly call “the Old Country.” It’s Yonkers, N.Y. I haven’t lived there for more than 40 years, but I tell stories about it like an Irish grandfather.
Kathy sent me an email to ask if I remembered Timmy, a classmate from grammar school. Sure I did. Blond kid with glasses almost as big as his face. Like 20 other boys in the class. The girls got braces in those days. The boys got big glasses.
“You might not remember,” she said, “but he had a baby brother nearly 15 years younger. He had a son, Tim’s little nephew. He was one of the kids killed in Newtown.”
The thing is, it tracks you down. We all have some connection to it. And it scrapes at us, pulls at us, tears at us.
We have moved into full talking-heads mode now. We have either something to sell or political posturing to make. We are at our best immediately after a tragedy; we are at our worst a month later.
I don’t want to debate the horror; I just want to mourn. So I have stopped paying attention. Newtown — which we all know, which we all feel, which we all own now and forever — has become a part of our lives.
We don’t read the Book of Lamentations much. Only a part of it is sometimes used in services on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. It’s just too much, five poems of complete anguish at the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.
“On the ground in silence sit
the old men of the daughter Zion;
They strew dust on their heads
and gird themselves with sackcloth;
The maidens of Jerusalem
bow their heads to the ground
As child and infant faint away in the open spaces of the town
They ask their mothers
‘Where is the cereal?’ — in vain,
As they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city
And breathe their last
in their mothers’ arms” (Lam 2:10-12).
They are communal poems, meant to convey grief and mourning over the unspeakable. And I think of them when I think of Newtown.
It is the story of the raising of Lazarus. Beloved of Jesus, Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary. Mary, John reminds us in his Gospel, “was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair” (Jn 11:2).
Jesus had been told that Lazarus was ill. As he came to Bethany, Martha had come out to meet him. She tells him that Lazarus has died. Then Mary arrives, falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:32).
“When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Sir, come and see.’ And Jesus wept” (Jn 11:33-35).
And Jesus wept. Moments before Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept.
Lamentations expresses the unspeakable grief of the holy city of Jerusalem lost. Revelation, the last book of the Bible, describes the coming of the new Jerusalem:
“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold God’s dwelling place is with the human race. He will dwell within them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or morning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away” (Rv 21: 3-4).
Which is my prayer for Tim’s little brother. And the families of Newtown.