Community in Tragedy

The best response to tragedy is unity.

As the aftershocks of the terrorists attacks on September 11th rippled across the United States, we all responded by locking arms. We were all New Yorkers. We came together.

Think about great, recent national tragedies: Hurricane Katrina, the shootings at Virginia Tech, September 11th. When these things happen, people pitch in to help. People forget their differences. People show amazing love and compassion and unity.

In the small picture we see this as well. When families tragedies occur, when businesses collapse and cancer appears, when the shadows loom large on the horizon, people come together. At our best, we respond to tragedy by coming together.

What is it about tragedy that tightens the bonds of our community?

For one, I think tragedy puts things in perspective. Our differences seem petty when seen in the light of tragedy. Our squabbles and fights seem less urgent. Our emotions of anger or jealousy all of the sudden feel optional, not necessary, and so get set aside. And when the barriers are removed, we naturally lean in to each other.

I also think that tragedy gives us a feeling of being overmatched. We know we can't stand up to it on our own. Our resources aren't enough. Emotionally, financially, spiritually ... we need help. And so we reach out to others and find them reaching out to us. And this creates community, at least in the short term.

I wonder also if God hasn't made us in such a way that we turn from isolation to community in the face of tragedy. What if there is something buried deeply in the human psyche that longs for deep connection with other people, for union and for unity? In times of peace and comfort, that longing for community gets dulled, muted but the other good and beautiful things that fill this world. But when faced with terror and horror and sadness and tragedy, those diversions are stripped away and our longing for community rises to the surface. We reach out to the people around us. We reach out to God.

As we remember the tragedy of September 11th today, let us continue to come together, to reach out, to connect and care and love.

The best response to tragedy is unity. There's no reason for unity to fade when the shadow of tragedy moves on. Let us come together. Let us stay together. United. How wonderful would that be?

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