Lament and Laughter: Being Human

Peri has something important to say. –BZ

Lament and Laughter: Being Human
Peri Zahnd

Last Thursday night at 9:30 I heard the sickening news of the police officers’ shooting in Dallas. I was tired and getting ready to go to bed, but then of course I couldn’t go to bed. The story was happening live and it was devastating. I finally went to bed at midnight, and laid there with a pain in my sternum, and the thought kept going through my mind, “I can’t breathe.” Which made me think of Eric Garner, the black man in New York who was killed by police, captured on video saying, “I can’t breathe.” The words echo in my mind, I feel them in my body. Lord, how can anybody breathe? What’s happening to this country?

The next day I made myself watch the videos of the deaths of two black men killed a few days earlier in police altercations. Yes, I was very aware, and not at all callous — I just couldn’t make myself watch before. I am so sad about all this. It hurts. But I made myself watch. God, it was awful. The girlfriend of one calmly narrating as she watched her boyfriend die, and as we also watched him die. He was guilty of driving with a burned-out taillight. A nervous cop “jumped the gun.” Literally. Filled him full of bullets. It could never have happened to me. I’m a privileged white woman. The other man in a wrestling match with a cop, and then the cop pulling his gun and shooting the man in the chest multiple times. What on earth? How have we come to this. Yes, the two black men were also guilty of carrying guns, which was perfectly legal!!! Insanely legal. They died for nothing. And now five innocent white policemen are dead at the hands of an enraged, mentally ill black man, who, of course, is also now dead. It’s the casualties of a war we never wanted to be fighting.

Friday night we had a service of Lament for the Land. It was a prayer service. And it was balm to my troubled soul. I went home feeling a little better. Why? Because lament gives voice to the pain inside. Nothing was fixed. The people were all still dead. The seemingly intractable differences were not resolved. But I had participated in a collective lament. Instead of sitting with the pain all bottled up inside, denying the pain, being too quick to “move on,” I had given voice to the pain within.

All over the country, there were demonstrations of lament. I watched videos of policemen lined up on the street, a receiving line, people waiting for a chance to hug them. It was very moving. It was just like what happens at a funeral. Funerals are wonderful places of public lament where healing begins to happen. When people go to funerals, they embrace one another far more than they do in everyday life. A funeral is a sobering reminder that death will happen to us all. A funeral is a sobering reminder that, at the end, what matters are relationships, caring for one another.

A funeral is a place for families and close friends to grieve a significant loss. But a funeral is also a place for a community to come together and, through their respectful presence, to create space for those who are grieving.

I recently read a line that stuck with me, resounded in me: “A person of prayer knows how to cry with the heart and laugh with the belly.” A person of prayer — a person formed in prayer, in union with God, someone who is whole and fully alive — knows how to cry with the heart and laugh with the belly — to live fully in the moment, and embrace and respond to all that moment has to offer. And it occurred to me how rarely I cry. Almost never. I have become very, very good at holding back my tears, which has not been very good for me after all.

Not only do I rarely lament, I don’t laugh enough. I take myself too seriously. I have far more important things to do than to laugh. Recently, Brian had been laughing over some funny videos he saw online and was eager to share them with me. But they irritated me! I told him they weren’t funny, they were just stupid. I didn’t want to waste my time watching them (did I mention they were 30-second videos?!) So, a few weeks later, when my heart was breaking over something and his was too, he again said, “Hey, come watch this on my computer.” In compassion, I did, and I realized that “hey, this is funny!” And I wondered what kind of a self-righteous attitude made me think they weren’t……

I heard a podcast a few days ago from a man who suffered a paralyzing injury. He talked about his stoic approach to the injury, and all the pain inside, that was finally released when he allowed himself to cry about it. That touched me deeply. He talked about the healing that came with tears, that you really do somehow feel better after a good cry. A cry of lament. Giving voice to the pain.

I want to lean into the now, to the only moment I have. I want to cry with the heart and laugh with the belly. I want to quit taking myself so seriously. I will watch some funny movies, soon, I promise!! I know I can laugh. And as for crying, I will trust God for that. But I’m now open, Lord. I’m free to cry. I’m free to lament. Thank you for helping me see how I’ve been harming myself. Thank you for waking me up. Thank you for abundant life. The resurrected Christ is resurrecting me.

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P.S. Last night Peri and I watched the classic Irish comedy Waking Ned Devine. -BZ