A Prayer for Survivors

The tragic events of this past week are of the kind that always brings to mind the haunting words “Well, you really got me this time. And the hardest part is knowing I’ll survive.” They come from the Emmylou Harris song, “Boulder to Birmingham”, co-written by Bill Danoff for Harris’ 1975 album, Pieces of the Sky. It is an expression of grief over the death of her partner, Gram Parsons, and says what many of us have experienced after a similar heart-breaking, soul-numbing loss; the hardest part is the aftermath of being the survivor. The families of shooting victims and sailors lost in a nautical collision know this only too well.

The common response from the non-assailed is that their thoughts and prayers go with us. It is a message intoned by newscasters, politicians using the occasion as a favorable sound bite, and even the people of our closest personal acquaintance in lieu of having a solution for a circumstance they cannot amend or ever understand. But in a society where belief in a transcendent being of any theological description is openly ridiculed, and the decline of faith-based communities celebrated, one has to wonder who such prayers are being addressed to and of what benefit could they possibly be when their origin and destination are in the emptiness of a cosmos devoid of design, purpose or meaning?

Our tendency is to use platitudes when confronted with despair. Lacking the formality of being identified by chapter and verse, they nevertheless carry some weight if only in the relief of having spoken our piece with a time-honored sense of authority such soothing bromides can bring. But if the truth be told, time does not heal. It may anesthetize us to our injury, but the chronological distance it provides does not carry with it an antidote for our misery. If anything, time is the true concept by which we measure our pain.

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