I think about tomatoes when I think about my friend’s husband. He was always an avid gardener but in retirement, he became an expert grower of tomatoes. His annual schedule began in winter when he started his seeds under grow lights in his basement. In spring, he planted tender plants. In summer, he staked the plants and kept them pest-free until they yielded their bounty. Who hasn’t been sorely disappointed by cutting into a tomato that appeared ripe only to find a white cardboard-like substance on the inside? That never happened with his crops. They were delicious through and through, end to end.
This person had many other talents, but you get the idea of what a caring person he was. He died recently from cancer at the age of 81. He was first diagnosed three years ago just as the pandemic burst into our reality. He soldiered through a rocky road these last three years. His body could take no more. My friend married him 50 years ago in New York City with a circlet of wildflowers in her hair. That was the era. They met at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwich Village. He will be memorialized there in a few months for his decades-long artistic contributions to that community. Today there is a service for immediate family and friends to say goodbye in a church near Chicago. My friends had moved out there to be closer to family. I am relieved that my friend has her children close as she begins to navigate widowhood. Recently she said to me, “Grief is my new life partner.”
Five of my friends have been widowed since the beginning of this year. Their grief is palpable. I am privileged to walk alongside them, offering what support I can. During the years I was a pastor, I walked alongside many through the death of parents, spouses, siblings, children and friends. As much as there are common threads to grief, each person and each situation is unique, intimate, precious, and holy.
I wonder how the survivors of the senseless massacre in Maine will be able to process their grief. For the immediate families and friends, their lives are changed forever. There is nothing anyone can do about that now. Their lives will eventually grow around their grief, as happens for each of us, but it will still be there.
Everyone in the area is shocked and sad. Those not directly affected will help however they can. The state, even the nation will rally around them in support. No longer can they think of their community as a place where “this could never happen.”
We are outraged every time a community is rocked by violence from dangerous and deadly assault weapons. The outrage eventually fades. Until the next time. And the next and the next. Places with sensible gun regulations simply do not have the number of mass shootings that we have in this country. Given the increased social disintegration from the pandemic, epidemic levels of isolation and loneliness, and the polarized political atmosphere, our country has become a breeding ground for violence. Unless action is taken, things will not get better.
I wonder about every single person murdered in Israel and Palestine and Maine and so many other places. What were their special talents? What made them laugh or sing or cry? Could they grow tomatoes or lemons? What was their favorite dessert? Could they sew or fix a car or tell a good joke? My friend played the guitar and sang in a church in Greenwich Village for decades. Now his adult children sing and play guitar and write songs and poetry. It makes me sad to think about what future generations will miss out on because these people have been taken from us. I don’t think of them as victims. That lumps them together in a way that feels dehumanizing. A current movement challenges us to “say their names.” Maybe if we had to memorize lists of names of those killed by assault weapons, we would be more apt to press for changes in legislation.
When Jesus of Nazareth learned his friend Lazarus had died, he went to visit his surviving sisters. When he went to the tomb, we read, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
Me too, Jesus. Me too.