The National Catholic Review

“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?

Sidney Callahan

Comments

Amy Ho-Ohn | 7/24/2012 - 4:26pm
But isn't it just a little bit annoying that the mainstream media (basically, the idiot box people) select events and designate them mandatory occasions of national communal weeping? Usually, coincidentally, occasions that supposedly illustrate the correctness of their opinions?

Isn't it a little bit tedious that it's always the same old gag: the teddy bears, the candles, the multi-racial group hugs, the over-the-top displays of grief by distant relatives?

I felt very sad when Princess Diana died. She was a very attractive woman who looked truly amazing in expensive clothes. But it was not altogether unpreventable: if one really must drive 100 mph through a tunnel in the middle of a rainy night, one should wear a seatbelt. If the idiot box people made half as much fuss about wearing seatbelts as they make about wearing condoms, they'd save twice as many lives.

I felt very sad when John Kennedy, Jr. died. He was a reasonably attractive man who had a famous last name and showed up for work occasionally when he was in town. But that was not altogether unpreventable either: if you don't know how to fly an airplane, don't practice over the ocean.

Every day hundreds of thousands of little kids worldwide die of malaria, sleeping sickness, Chagas' disease. Nobody ever calls in a Mandatory Global Weepathon for them; no doubt because preventing their deaths would cost (a scandalously small amount of) money.