“What were you doing,” wrote Anne Dillard, “on April 30, 1991, when a series of waves drowned 138,000 people? Where were you when you first heard the astounding, heartbreaking news? Who told you? What, in order, were your various sensations? Who did you tell? Do you weep? Did your anguish last days or weeks?”
What did you do? Chances are, even if you were old enough at the time that it happened, and even if you read about it in the morning paper, and shook your head and said, “Wow, too bad,” you probably then turned to the sports page to see how the local team was doing.
We’re all like that, kind of, aren’t we? How could we not be, living in a world in which we know only woe, only suffering, only death, and sometimes on a massive scale too. Fifty thousand dead of Covid-19 in month. Six million Jews in the Holocaust. Six hundred thousand dead in the American Civil War. These soon cease to be people but, instead, only cold hard numbers.
Perhaps it a defense mechanism? Perhaps there’s just not enough minutes in the day to mourn the dead? Think how far we have travelled from these words: “As they witnessed in drooping flower and falling leaf the first signs of decay, Adam and his companion mourned more deeply than men now mourn over their dead. The death of the frail, delicate flowers was indeed a cause of sorrow; but when the goodly trees cast off their leaves, the scene brought vividly to mind the stern fact that death is the portion of every living thing” (Patriarch and Prophets, p. 62).
Think, too, of how close we are to these: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 2:14)