A few weeks ago, early in my first conversation with a remarkable person, we somehow came across the topic of grief.
“I guess you’ve heard what happened to me,” he said.
He told me about the death of one of his children, only a few weeks earlier. How do you respond to such devastating news? I was dumbfounded at first, desperately groping for something to say, feeling helpless and more than a bit uncomfortable.
But these thoughts and feelings were fleeting. I’ve been around long enough to know that no words are really necessary at times like that. I needed only to lean in to my new friend’s suffering, be present to it and to him. To listen to whatever it was he felt like sharing.
He told me about the wondrous creation that was his child, the delight he had taken in her and all the beautiful memories she had left behind. He told me of the herculean effort it now took for him to get out of bed to face the day. He wondered aloud if he would ever hear the birds sing again. His was a broken heart laid utterly and beautifully bare.
I told him how sorry I was, and how I wished I had known his daughter. And I shared a little piece of my own belief, my own little theology. It is this:
God does not live in the tragedy and injustice of life, not in violence or addiction or cruelty. I believe that the transcendent lives instead in the quiet grace notes that often can only be experienced in the heart of great suffering. Those grace notes are what sustain us. That’s what I told my new friend.
I felt like the time we shared on that recent day was another example.