My uncle was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer on a Tuesday. Mom meant to tell us, but she was still figuring out how. He died four days later. I spent the weekend in shock, the kind of shock where you forget about email and Facebook and eating. When enough of my wits returned, I flew home to be with my family.
I was supposed to drive down to an aunt’s in Newport Beach. I was supposed to use the weekend to complete my holiday shopping. But I wanted to stay close to my parents, to look over them, as if I could protect my family from any more loss or harm. On Saturday, a gunman fired off 50 rounds at Fashion Island. One reporter covering the story had the audacity to fill the last paragraph of their coverage with an explanation of Fashion Island as a high-end retail mall, as if the average property value in the area were a mass bulletproof vest. My family, too soon, returned to panic mode and began calling my aunt’s cell and house.
I’m sure the gunman thought he was exacting his rage on the rich and privileged. He threw his rage at them with a calculated fury. But that’s the thing about rage–it doesn’t much care who your intended target was; rage is chaos and like making a deal with the devil, rage will destroy any and all within sight. I’m sure he thought the joke was on those who had pissed him off, but it turned out that the joke was on humans. The joke was on families like mine, already grieving, already in shock from personal loss, already feeling vulnerable and stunned from the horrid massacre in Connecticut just a day prior. And none of us found the joke to be funny.
On Tuesday, we gathered for the funeral. Five generations. A cousin from Australia who had to catch a plane directly after the funeral. The aunts and uncles who were there for every birthday, every milestone. The babies of the family who were no longer babies. We gathered to say goodbye but had to wait. Someone’s idea of a joke: bomb threats. The first in the early morning against the synagogue, the second against the police directly. I received the news stone-faced. I was empty. All my energy had gone to finding peace amidst a mad scramble to keep the chaos away from my family.
I’ve never been a fan of funerals. I find them grotesque and bleak. But my mother hen instincts kicked in as I wandered the reception, stealing facetime with my beloveds. Billy and I joked in the hallway about selective hearing, while I explained the family tree to a cousin 10 years my junior. I found my peace there, in my family, in memories remembered and made. And peace was what I needed most, because it’s not the gun or absence of that separates them from us, it’s the rage. Of course I felt rage in Pandora’s week, but rage doesn’t heal. The ability to let go of our rage, to process it, in a way that is not destructive to others is what sustains our humanity, what leads one person to open fire on all that is not and another to just let go and embrace all that is.
*In memory of my cousin Billy, not mentioned, but no less loved, who passed away Christmas Eve 2012.