Grief is a blue landscape, and last week, the loss of life in Benghazi forced us there. In the fog of war (and what happened was an act of war), the details emerge slowly as do the layers of response: denial, anger and grief. These are all variations of blue. We come to see them over time.
No one wants to plunge into the realm of blue. We try, as much as possible, to inhabit the other colors of the rainbow. Many of us "see red" in the heat of anger, or feel dullness in shades of grey. But we try to avoid blue. Even our language reflects this preference which is why we say someone has the "blues." But the thing is, we live in a full-color world, and blue is a primary color. It is the color that marks our essentially human response to death and destruction; blues constitute the all pervasive shades of loss.
When tragedy strikes, the rapidity and finality of change is total. Last Tuesday, Americans around the world were much like Persephone, going about our daily business in the colorful brilliance of a late-summer meadow. Then came word of violence in Libya, news of destruction and death. On the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, the ground of peace and diplomacy gaped open and we were plunged once again into the underworld.
Military service members and their loved ones know this transition all too well. Now, increasingly the ground is breaking open to engulf those who serve America in the diplomatic and related services. There are those among us who dropped hard into the blue landscape through personal connections to Ambassador Stevens and those diplomats with whom he served and died in the line of duty. Many others returned to the realm of Hades as the news from Benghazi revived the pain of past losses, in theatres of war and at home. Still more arrived at the gates of the underworld drawn by sympathy and empathy. After tragedy, the circle of grief widens, and the shades of blue expand.
So what can we do while dwelling in shades of blue? First, we can remember that feeling grief is a natural and normal response that honors the very vibrancy of human life, the loss of which we mourn. Next, we can recognize that the act of falling into grief is, by nature, disorienting and destabilizing. With grief, we replay the past (whether it's the times we spent with those now gone or the projections of the suffering they may have experienced at the time of their passing), and we fear for the future (without our loved ones or for a world that seems increasingly dangerous). We lose hold of the present.
Yet, despite our grief, we can and must, return to the present to steady ourselves and care for others. We live, moment by moment, day by day. It's time to take a breath, to bring in life-sustaining oxygen and defy those whose actions take life. Breathe, and notice the sensations as you inhale and exhale. This act of mindfulness anchors in the here and now. Attend to the simple, visceral experience of being alive. Alternatively, count your breaths so your mind engages in a quantifiable activity that brings awareness to this moment.
And then, if it seems right for you, breathe in the pain and suffering of others as a living act of empathy, and breathe out solace in the embodiment and expression of compassion. Remember that compassion is the profound desire to relieve suffering, and by extending compassion we heal ourselves in the service of helping others.
So here in the landscape of blue, breathe, and pause in a moment of silence to honor those taken. Dedicate that moment of silence for comfort and in respect. Share the silence, in community, with others to bear witness to what -- and who -- has passed.
This practice of mindfulness is nothing foreign for us. After all, it's what we do in mainstream American culture: we stand, in silence, and bear witness. We fill the silence with the commitment to stand against those who seek to destroy us. And we breathe, in silence, as we remember those who breathe no more.
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