The events at the Washington Navy Yard have broken my heart on so many levels recently. I am (very) tangentially connected to one of the victims of the shooting, who leaves behind a beautiful little family—young girls who will never get to walk down the aisle on the arm of their dad or have him wave to them as they cross the stage to receive their graduate degrees. The trauma and pain each family must be experiencing is beyond words. And I am so deeply aware of the tragedy and torment of mental illness, the ways that it robs you of reason and hope, and the ways that we turn from mental illness instead of toward it (I hold myself guilty on that account, oh too many times).
I don’t wish to minimize any of this suffering, or the regular suffering going on around the world, but I have to share how deeply my heart has been caught by the sorrow of Cathleen Alexis, and how she will never know why her son did this, will walk bearing the pain of his actions as well as the pain of his loss. As I sat with that pain, and the tug of my heart toward God, toward prayer, I came across this blessing from John O’Donohue.
Cathleen Alexis, I don’t know if you’ll ever read this, on this small corner of the internet devoted to prayer and silence and hope and God. I don’t know if this will ever reach you, but if it does, I hope that it soothes the torn edges of your heart just a bit. I pray it for you today, as I pray it for every parent whose child has committed a crime. I am so sorry that you will never have the ability to ask Aaron the questions your heart needs answers to—I pray that God will meet you in that ache and fill you with His comfort and kindness.
Cathleen Alexis, and every parent whose child has gone off the rails, this blessing is for you.
For the Parents of One Who Has Committed a Crime
No one else can see beauty
In his darkened life now.
His image has closed
Like a shadow.
When people look at him,
He has become the mirror
Of the damage he has done.
But he is yours;
And you have different eyes
That hold his yesterdays
In pictures no one else remembers:
Waiting for him to be born,
Not knowing who he would be,
The moments of his childhood,
First steps, first words,
Smiles and cries,
And all the big thresholds
Of his journey since…
He is yours in a way
No words could ever tell;
And you can see through
The stranger this deed has made him
And still find the countenance of your son.
Despite all the disappointment and shame,
May you find in your belonging with him
A kind place, where your spirit will find rest.
May new words come alive between you
To build small bridges of understanding.
May that serenity lead you beyond guilt and blame
To find that bright field of the heart
Where he can come to feel your love
Until it heals whatever darkness drove him
And he can see what it is he has done
And seek forgiveness and bring healing;
May this dark door open a path
That brightens constantly with new promise.
John O’Donohoue, The Bless the Space Between Us
Cathleen Alexis, I know that those new words, those small bridges of understanding, are not possible for you, or for Aaron, now. I know that Aaron can’t seek forgiveness, and I know that breaks your heart. But I pray that beyond the breaking, there will be bridges—bright, unexpected moments of connection—that bring understanding and hope to your soul. I hope that this dark door will one day brighten, indeed, with new promise. I will be praying that for you, and for your family. I will be praying that for every parent whose child has committed a crime—every parent who remembers their son’s or daughter’s delighted giggles on the playground and ache with the agony of knowing what they have done. Because you still hold him in your heart has he was—human, flawed, broken, beautiful—and that is a great gift to us all.
Image source: Layout Sparks, door hollow way dark.