… what we loved dissolving in the skies,
Dear hands and feet and laughter-lighted face
And silk that hinted at the body’s grace.
(From: “Aldershot Crematorium” by John Betjeman. from Collected Poems, 2006)
I walked outside this morning to a somber morning sky, overcast and gray, it mirrored my mood—sorrow mixing with fear in the aftermath of the bombings in Beirut and Paris. The outpouring of condemnation and grief was largely devoted to the Paris bombings. Beirut, where my daughter lived and worked for several years, and where we visited her twice, is no stranger to conflict and bombings; many of its buildings are still pock-marked from conflicts of many years ago. This time, forty plus people living in a southern suburb, lost their lives as they went about their daily activities, just the day before the Paris bombings. As the New York Times described it,
Ali Awad, 14, was chopping vegetables when the first bomb struck. Adel Tormous, who would die tackling the second bomber, was sitting at a nearby coffee stand. Khodr Alaa Deen, a registered nurse, was on his way to work his night shift at the teaching hospital of the American University at Beirut, in Lebanon.
All three lost their lives in a double suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday, along with 40 others, and much like the scores who died a day later in Paris, they were killed at random, in a bustling urban area, while going about their normal evening business. (Nov. 15, 2015)
Shock and sadness lingers in both cities and among us all. Our nation expressed an outpouring of grief and solidarity with France, overshadowing the bombing in Beirut, but everywhere, shock, sorrow and a sense of vulnerability exists. In Lebanon, once called the “Paris of the Middle East,” people expressed their shock that the kind of violence they have experienced so many times had occurred in the heart of a country they regarded much safer than their own.
I’ve spent the morning searching for poetry that captures something of what so many of us are feeling in the wake of these events. What resonated with me were the words of Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, after the tragedy of 9/11. According to www.poets.org,
After the attacks of September 11, there was an outpouring of national grief and an uncharacteristic attention to poetry… There seemed to be pressure on well-known poets to produce a poem, or refuse the opportunity, as … Billy Collins did, saying … that the occasion was “too stupendous” for a single poem to handle. He said that the terrorists had done something “beyond language.”
Collins wrote, Since the destruction of the World Trade Center, the media has tried to fill that hole, that vacuum, with talk and print, but unsuccessfully. Poetry will not fill that space either, but poetry creates its own space apart from such terrible emptiness. It’s not that poets should feel a responsibility to write about this calamity. All poetry stands in opposition to it. Pick a poem, any poem, from an anthology and you will see that it is speaking for life and therefore against the taking of it… A poem about mushrooms or about a walk with the dog is a more eloquent response to Sept. 11 than a poem that announces that wholesale murder is a bad thing. (In: USA Today, Sept. 24, 2001).
This morning my mind keeps returning to the victims of the bombings in Paris and in Beirut. For all those men, women and children who have died in these kinds of vicious and brutal attacks and who suffer from war and violence that seems unending, I grieve. I am at a loss for words to capture the magnitude of tragedies we experience again and again. The world seems a little more frightening each day. I pray, as we all do, for an end to suffering, to brutality and violence. I pray for that elusive state called peace.
…That where there is hatred, I may bring love.
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness.
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony.
That where there is error, I may bring truth.
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith.
That where there is despair, I may bring hope.
That where there are shadows, I may bring light.
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
(From: The Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi)