“Weep with those who weep” says St. Paul in Romans 12. Not only in Aurora Colorado is this command followed. Human beings have evolved to be intuitively affected by the emotions of others. Mysterious “mirror neurons” in the brain instantly provide empathetic identical responses with the feelings observed.
We also are uniquely endowed with the understanding that other people have minds and inner thoughts like our own. Hence humans mourn. Remains of the first human beings reveal that they buried their dead with red dye, beads and flowers. Mourners in Aurora have spontaneously erected the same kind of instant memorials that marked New York’s 9/11 disaster or Princess Diana’s death. Outside the scene of the massacre flowers, vigil lights, letters, pictures, crosses and teddy bears appear in the symbolic space. Later communal ceremonies of sorrow may include speeches, music, processions, drumbeats, taps and other rites.
But how do these expressions of grief help us? I think they counter our human helplessness in the face of the cruel horror of senseless death. We can’t undo the dreadful event that has occurred, but we can do something. Actions can give an outward expression to our inner thoughts and feelings. Collective behavior and displays of symbolic objects prove that we are not completely alone and powerless.
Memorial objects and actions also provide comfort because they are signs of larger realities that exist beyond death. Flowers and flames of fire manifest the beauty of nature; teddy bears have become icons of maternal nurturing and the preciousness of life renewed in childhood. Religious traditions provide other potent symbols of meaning transcending our brief lives. Christianity proclaims the good news that Life and Love triumph over tragedy. In the Kingdom every tear will be wiped away. On the present pilgrim way have found other ways to comfort the sorrowful and give each other hope?