A Song of Lament
It happened again. The death of a celebrity has been the straw to break the camel’s back.
Yesterday at the produce stand I was talking with my produce guy. I have a produce guy. Robbie. I see him every Monday and we usually shoot the breeze while I’m buying mangos and bell peppers and bananas. Yesterday he mentioned in passing that there had been more wildfires in Washington over the weekend.
“There were?” I said.
“Yeah,” he shrugged. “It was on the news.”
“Ahh. Well, I guess there is only so much bad news a person can take before they’ve reached their limit…”
“Truth,” said Robbie. “Truth.”
There’s so much happening right now around the world that I can scarce take it all in. From Ferguson to the Middle East, Texas to East Africa… it’s too much. I got home late in the afternoon and I went downstairs to take the clothes out of the washer. When I reached into the machine, though, all of the clothes were still dry. I had forgotten to turn it on. As I sighed I heard my husband ask quietly from the next room, “hey, what was that Robin Williams movie you liked so much?”
“Patch Adams? Why?”
“He died today. Robin Williams. He committed suicide.”
I was still hanging over the machine door of our front-loader. And the valve burst. No no no no no no no no. I could no longer contain it. I walked upstairs and wept.
I wept for my dad who is struggling with his health.
I wept for Mike Brown and John Crawford, both black, unarmed, and dead at the hands of the police.
I wept for their mamas.
I wept for the people of Gaza.
For kids being killed and bombs and bitterness.
I wept for Liberia and Sierra Leone.
I wept for the kids who are alone, stuck in Texas, without any family or people, literally sleeping on top of one another while the bigwigs debate what to do with them.
I wept for the riots in St. Louis; for a people who have been pushed too far.
I wept for Jenise Wright, Colton, and Anne Lamott’s dog, Lily.
I wept for Robin Williams.
Why did the death of a celebrity, of a man I don’t know, propel me beyond my limit? I don’t know. I do know that Robin Williams was a story-teller and people connect with stories. He told stories with his acting and his comedy and his life. I connected with some of those stories. And his death, heaped onto the fast-growing pile of seemingly unsurmountable sorrow, was just too much.
I know what we’re supposed to be doing, according to all the articles and admonitions the internet has to offer. We’re supposed to be looking for the helpers and telling people that we love them and holding our kids extra tight. We’re supposed to be searching for beauty, focusing on the good, seizing the day.
But I can’t do it. Not yet. Not today. As during the Lenten season we have to sit in sorrow before running headlong to the resurrection of Easter. We need to mourn and today I’d rather sing a song of lamentation than rush too quickly to platitudes and efforts to repair, no matter how helpful they might be.
“We are filled with fear,
for we are trapped, devastated,
Tears stream from my eyes
because of the destruction of my people!
My tears flow endlessly;
They will not stop…”
The destruction of my people. My people.
Mike Brown? My people. John Crawford? My people. Gazaians, Israelis, Iraqis? My people. My dad, Jenise Wright, Colton, and immigrants at the border. Every last one of them my people. My tears flow endlessly. They will not stop.
There’s a scene in the movie Regarding Henry where Harrison Ford’s character, Henry Turner, is slowly recovering from a gunshot wound and his secretary is pouring him coffee. “Say when,” she says briskly as she pours. But Henry no longer understands the familiar phrase and he just watches, confused, as she pours the coffee all the way to the brim and then over. She finally stops, looks at him for a long second, and then explains slowly, “When you’ve had enough, Mr. Turner, you say when.”
Say when with me? We’ve had enough. Let’s say when. Say when for Gaza. Say when for Syria, Ukraine, Israel. Say when for John Crawford, Mike Brown and Ferguson, Missouri. And then sing a song of lamentation with me. Let’s mourn for the destruction of our people. We know the resurrection is coming but it’s not time to talk about that just yet.