By Cassandra Lane
I love how, despite the fact that he had the power to move mountains, to heal the sick, to even– my God– raise the dead, Jesus wept with his loved ones over Lazarus’ death.
Sometimes, we can be too quick to sling the Be Positive message at folks, beating them over the head with it when they seem not to be able to pull themselves out of the pit. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of such well-meaning tactics. Let’s face it: When those near us are happy-go-lucky, things are easier on us, too.
Yet, it takes true grace, compassion, patience, and an understanding of the weakness of the human heart to learn how to navigate the bridge between speaking to someone’s grief and suffering and– gently, beautifully– helping to lift them up out of the mire.
As a newspaper reporter, I covered, like most of my compadres, a fair share of house fires and car accidents and shootings and other tragedies.
When the emergency call comes, the reporter runs out the door to answer it, right on the heels of the ambulances, driven by nothing but staight-up adrenaline, calculating how she will get the facts of the incident, enough viewpoints to flesh it out and make it appear balanced AND great quotes that “humanize” the story. “Don’t forget to ask them– the victims– to spell their names,” she thinks, “even if the name is as simple as ‘John’.”
She doesn’t realize that her calculations are, in some way, de-humanizing. She doesn’t realize how callous her thinking would sound if somehow it were transcribed and drawn against the sky like a blimp message for all to see as she speeds towards her target.
But then. Then, she arrives at the burned-out shell of a house or apartment or car, and the destruction before her stops her so-called reporter’s heart in its tracks.
She looks around, scratching details in her notebook:
- A smashed baby bottle strewn on the freeway.
- A woman who has been ejected from her windshield and is still alive somehow, her body mangled and bloody, as she waves her arms at the incoming traffic.
- A house that is barely recognizable as a house because the blackness of its charred remains bleeds into the night.
In each of these cases and all the other ones, she zones in on the victim who is not screaming, the one who is shell-shocked enough not to tell her where she can get off, and she feels lucky to have discovered this person because she remembers the lesson in journalism school about looking for the lone gravedigger’s perspective…
As she gets closer to her subject and looks into her eyes, however, she sees the soul raging inside– the loss, the torment. This soul knocks on the door of her own soul, and she becomes human again, on those days she’s open to such vulnerability. She sticks her pen inside the spiral of her notebook and reaches out her hand.
She doesn’t know quite what to say, but, hey, that’s ok.
What matters is that she and I and we say something. What matters is that we recognize the loss. Foreigner or friend or foe, when we come face to face with someone’s pain– whether loss of life or limb or job– we do our own souls’ justice when we recognize and acknowledge that pain, when we stew in it with them, at least for a while.
I was reminded of this recently when several of my coworkers were laid off. We bravely faced each day for the three weeks leading up to their final day. Got binders and procedures organized, answered calls, made plans, held meetings, shared stories, talked about inspiring next steps and how things always work out. But on that final day, in those final hours, tears were shed, things my coworkers and I had never shared– how grateful we were to each other, how inspired by one another–came flowing out of our lips. Yes, and even out of our fingers in notes. It was awkward. It was imperfect. It was human. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A few years ago, I might have pulled out some trite, positive-thinking book or quote or rock or other such thingamajig. I had no such trinket or magic trick this time. Just my incoherent words of comfort and the embrace of my arms. And, my wet face.
When Jesus saw (Mary) weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply troubled. “Where have you laid him (Lazarus)?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11: 33-36)
Now why on earth would Jesus, who in a few moments would raise Lazarus from the dead (the ultimate act of positive thinking!), weep? He could easily have reprimanded the grieving sisters: Why are you crying? Don’t you know that I have the power to bring your brother back? Why the long faces? Why are you so negative? Get over it!
But, he did not. He allowed his heart to be, as verse 38 points out, “deeply moved.” Through his own shedding of tears, he acknowledged the sisters’ grief, their pain, their confusion. This sharing of tears was a cloak of comfort, yes, but it was also a clearing– a clearing of bottled-up feelings and fears…and even blame.
Jesus knew: In a little while, the weeping would be no more.
Jesus knew: In a little while, things would look up.
And Jesus knew: When he ordered the men to “take away the stone,” light would, indeed, shine at the end of the Lazarus’ (and the sisters’) tunnel.