Our Humanity

I was asked to represent Reno Freethinkers at an interfaith service this evening at the University of Nevada to honor the victims, families and first responders in Newtown, Connecticut. Many faiths were represented tonight (Catholic, Christian (fundamentalist evangelical, mainstream Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, Hindu and Baha’i), and me, the non-believer. I appreciated the opportunity. Certainly among the grieving are people like me. It was a moving night, particularly the prayer of mourning sung by the Baha’i celebrant. I didn’t understand the words, but the emotion came right through.

My prepared remarks:

I don’t know who wrote this, but I’d like to share it with you today.

I have seen a mother at a cot – so I know what love is;
I have looked into the eyes of a child – so I know what faith is;
I have seen a rainbow – so I know what beauty is;
I have felt the pounding of the seas – so I know what power is;
I have planted a tree – so I know what hope is;
I have heard a wild bird sing – so I know what freedom is;
I have seen a chrysalis burst into life – so I know what mystery is;
I have lost a friend – so I know what sorrow is;
I have seen a star-decked sky – so I know what infinity is;
I have seen and felt all these things – so I know what life is.

Today we come together in our humanity. Whether we are Believers, Agnostics, or Atheists, we stand here in our humanness and grief. We are drawn together by the need to be close to each other, to collectively honor those no longer with us, and to hold in our hearts those whose hearts and lives have been shattered in a million pieces. We come together today to comfort each other as well.

Centuries ago the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:

“In the presence of death, we must continue to sing the song of life. We must be able to accept death and go from its presence better able to bear our burdens and to lighten the load of others. Out of our sorrows should come understanding. Through our sorrows, we join with all of those before who have had to suffer and all of those who will yet have to do so. Let us not be gripped by the fear of death. If another day be added to our lives, let us joyfully receive it, but let us not anxiously depend on our tomorrows. Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to our memories as precious gifts. Let us make the best of our loved ones while they are with us, and let us not bury our love with death.”

What happened in Newtown is unimaginable, and yet it is real. It happened. As a parent, I cannot imagine it. For those of us with no belief in a comforting god or an afterlife, death does indeed have a sting. For we do not believe we shall see our loved one again; we do not think they have gone to a better place. They are asleep, never to awaken. They have been taken from us.

All we can do is miss them. And remember them. They live on as long as they live in our hearts. All we can do is gather close and love those of us who remain.

This is the bargain we make. We put our hearts out there in love and friendship because the reward is love and friendship in return. And sometimes, because that is just the way life is, our hearts will be broken in ways we will never understand.

I’d like to close with another poem:

When I die, give what is left of me to children.
If you need to cry, cry for your brothers walking beside you.
Put your arms around anyone, and give them what you need to give me.
I want to leave you with something, something better than words or sounds.
Look for me in the people I have known and loved.
And if you cannot live without me, then let me live on in your eyes, your mind and your acts of kindness.
You can love me most by letting hands touch hands and letting go of children that need to be free.
Love does not die, people do.
So when all that is left of me is love…..
Give me away…..

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