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Starting Point

Holding each other and healing


Some years back I read a short story. I cannot recall the title or the author. It was about a couple whose only daughter was killed in a car accident. As the story begins, you soon realize that there has been a tragic death and that a considerable amount of time has passed.

As the story develops, the husband and wife strain to live with the loss of their daughter. It is painful for them to get through their days and nights. Death has drained their lives of joy and the capacity of their hearts to love. It is not that they hate, but rather that death has crushed their hearts. They lack the strength to love. If anything moves them deeply, it is grief.

One night the wife awakens, and her husband is not next to her. She gets out of bed and goes looking for him, and finds him downstairs, standing in the darkened living room and crying, as he looks out the window. She goes to him and holds him and says, “I know, I know.” And he cries and tells her he is sorry and that things will get better. And she kisses him and says again, “I know.”

The story ends there. I had the sense when I read it that I knew of the love between them that they could not yet see. Love was there, in her looking for him, in their holding each other, in their knowing through such agony that better times would come. It is a beautiful story, for it is a story about how people can give from their pain even when it seems like there isn’t anything more to give. In our desperation to live and get through life, we can and do hold each other when there is nothing more we can do. We hold each other through it.

These are painful times for the church. It is something like a death, isn’t it? A secure sense of priesthood is gone. There has been so much pain. There does not exist a solution, as if the dilemma can be solved with the right theology, the right approach, the right words or system. There are no answers or palliatives for this crisis. It is exacting a painful reach into every facet of church life.

One might say that the only way out of it is through it. A gauntlet that stretches ahead how far? Months? Years? Decades?

Living things have a capacity for healing. It is built into living systems in ways that fascinate me. I have read that even the universe has a self-correcting dynamic to it. Something in us and all around us focuses, shifts, realigns. There is a drive to better see, better understand, better love. It is how we get through it all. And it is how we help each other get through the rough seas of life.

When I have been in a lot of pain, I knew that there were no answers. I then needed someone to talk to. I needed time to heal. And I needed loving support. In time, my heart eased a bit and I found my footing again and was able to be of help to others who were hurting.

Wounds are being opened in the church. We must name them. We must learn to find each other -- to leave the places of our comfort and seek each other out. There is a “knowing” in us that things will get better, though that knowing is one of hope, not exactitude. It is why we hold each other when there is not much else to say. It is why I write this day, writing from my pain but knowing that some good is coming.

The husband and wife in the short story were fictional, but I have known couples like them who loved more deeply because they shared the pain of loss. It is a gift that comes through time, through waiting and looking and hoping. Better days come.

When I read that story, I had the sense that I could see what that couple could not. There was love there all along. I like to imagine them having grown older and more peaceful, and grateful for the life that was their only daughter. They were very real to me. Good writing does that.

The truth they embodied is real. Things are happening in the church that, in spite of the pain, are good. We are talking, writing in ways that are exacting in their need to address the depth and intensity of the wounds. We are looking for each other, as we wander through the nights. I am confident that God is with us, is in us and will teach us where to go in a church that is in need of spirit, joy, hope, promise. The night ahead may be a long one. But it will pass, and we will learn to hold each other through it. And a more human church will await us when morning comes.

Fr. James Behrens writes and lives in Covington, La.

National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002