Mountains and cityscape in shrouded mist. Gentle drops of rain like the tears of angels. An urban church parking lot looking as if it was Sunday rather than a Thursday morning. A congregation in silence, even the babies present mindful of the moment. From the side, a tall man with proud bearing totes an all-red clad toddler in his arm. Near the front, a young woman bent over from the enormity of her grief. Family and friends partake of the pain.
Under warm lights in front of altar steps, with simple pink flowers the only decoration, is a beautiful baby, her dark skin a jarring contrast to the white that envelopes her, just as her death is a jarring contrast to the life that gathers round her.
Her parents came from Sudan in that never-ending pilgrimage people have made since the Israelites left Egypt. They wanted a chance to create better lives for themselves and their family. They followed God, looking for pillars of clouds and fire to guide them. Guide them he did, to Denver and to a loving community that includes other Sudanese who arrived before them.
The tall man with the proud bearing took great delight in his daughter. With new-found words, she said “I love you!” on that Sunday afternoon. With heartfelt words, he replied, “I love you!” The joyful exchange was interrupted with a momentary distraction, but in those few minutes a happy, bubbly girl made a fatal misstep. Her brief life over far before it began. It was Mother’s Day.
A child’s death is unlike any other. “It shouldn’t be,” we say over and over through tears and heartache and sorrow. Questions and their answers, be they pat or patronizing, are meaningless. Tragedy doesn’t come with neat explanations that give everlasting hope and comfort. Tragedy travels in the company of Mystery. We have no earthly idea about a great many aspects to our lives, like why an innocent toddler dies when thieves, rapists and murderers reach old age. A side-to-side head shake, shrugged shoulders, a downward glance. There aren’t answers and there aren’t words and we do violence to those who mourn by loading them down with either.
We filled the church this Thursday morning, sitting shiva we did with the tall man with the proud bearing and the young woman who had drawn her body inward to protect against the flood of emotions. It could have been any one of us. No one escapes life without difficulties.
We kept our hearts open and our hands outstretched to those around us, standing with them on the hard ground of grief, mourning with those who mourn.