What happened in those final few seconds to the Polish President’s plane and its 96 passengers and crew as it crashed short of the Smolensk runway has been a devastating ‘body blow’ to this country and its people. I would go so far as to call it a ‘national heart attack’, since, like its medical counterpart, represents an ‘attack’ on the physical body, mind and spirit of the nation.*
As an American living and working in Poland for two years, I have felt a deep sense of connection with my Polish friends and colleagues this past week. The same kind of emotions came up in me that I felt on that dark November day in 1963 when our President Kennedy was killed. And when the planes crashed into the towers in New York on 9/11. And when the tsunami took so many lives in Sri Lanka. It seems that our world is experiencing quite a few of what I would call ‘large-scale traumas’. At the level of our individual souls or psyches, the grief, confusion and even anger about what is happening here now is similar to any traumatic life experience we might have. Any traumatic change in life is experienced as a death experience, since something precious ‘passes’ that cannot be regained and our world is not the same again—ever.
Time to Re-Member
It is not the time now to be thinking about how to recover—it is time now for ‘the family’ to come together and grieve. To Re-member.
First we come together to re-member those who have died. The continuous scrolling of the names of the people on that plane serve to help us remember the best about each of them. In homes and offices and small conversations all over the world, these people are being re-membered by friends and colleagues. They deserve to be re-membered. We need them to be re-membered.
Second, we come together to re-member the promise of new life. Every religious tradition on the earth has a way of holding the experience of death. As a strongly Catholic country, Polish people have a clear message about this: death is not the end; there is new life ‘on the other side’.
Finally, we come together to re-member ourselves and our community. We are each members of a family, a neighborhood, a nation, a world. When a trauma like this happens, the members of our ‘body’ are torn away from us and we must things together again. We must, in a sense re-member ourselves.
Grieving in the face of large-scale trauma like this is not just OK, it is mandatory. We need to come together with those we love who are still here to a) remember those who have died, b) remember the promise of our faith, and c) re-member ourselves as a community, now without those who have gone on to whatever is next. It is no accident that this is called ‘grief work’. For many, this will be the hardest ‘work’ we are called on to perform. It must be done. Grief, like all significant emotions, either comes out and up, or it goes down and in. Let it out. Let it go ‘up’. It is the only way to let go and move on with life, which is what those who died would want us to do. . . —- + —-
*I am indebted to my friend and colleague, Nance Guilmartin, for this concept of traumatic change representing an attack on the body of a community or organization.