This has been a week of strong emotions. The sudden and wanton destruction of lives at the Boston Marathon finish line briefly shattered our sense of safety and compelled us to think about our shared human mortality and vulnerability. We reached out urgently to connect with friends and family members in Boston. Most of us were overjoyed to learn our loved ones were safe even as we felt unutterably sad for those families who were receiving the bad news that would forever change their lives.
This week we all experienced collectively and simultaneously what is usually experienced privately in the smaller context of family. These moments of vulnerability impart a vivid, yet transient, wisdom: life is short and temporary, and many of the issues and grievances that separate us from the people we love seem trivial from this perspective.
We know this for a certainty after every funeral we attend, after every episode of worrying about the health or safety of a loved one. We know it for a certainty and then….. we forget. We return to the concerns and activities of our normal routines and this intense awareness of the preciousness and fragility of life and love fades.
In his book How Good Do We Have To Be, Harold Kushner tells story after story of people who have stopped talking to their siblings or parents or children or close friends because of some ancient disagreement. There is a familiar outline for these stories: someone did something wrong and the response of the offended party was to withdraw love and end all contact.
Kushner describes the poignant moments when estranged family members see each other at a funeral and realize how much time they have wasted being angry and hurt and separate as the result of an old unresolved grievance. They feel a rush of relief and joy when they seize this opportunity for reconciliation. At the same time they wonder how they could have let so much time pass and missed so much of each other’s lives.
This has been a week of strong emotions. This week, when the true value of family and the real cost of estrangement seems so clear, may be the perfect time to resolve an old grievance with a loved one. So before you forget, before you return to your normal routines, make a phone call or send an email to someone you once loved but are now estranged from. You don’t have to have everything figured out. You just have to reach out and get the process started.