Ten years ago, some people who didn’t like the United States of America and what it stands for hijacked airplanes and caused havoc. They took the lives of about 3,000 innocent people—people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s an event that’s hard to love, but in an amazing way that is exactly what’s happening. Read more
We grieve more when a life is cut short than when a full life comes to an end. There is so much unfinished business. Kids to raise. Degrees to complete. Rallies to win. Fortunes to earn. Fun to have. Grief multiplies with the early death.
When 3,000 lives are cut short within the span of about two hours, the grief is overwhelming. I suspect most of us either knew someone who died or know someone who knew someone. And that makes it even more difficult to bear.
The premature loss of thousands of people who were close to us—in one quick sweep of fate—creates the perfect storm of grief.
But what is grief?
Here’s what happens. Our Knower/Judgers become comfortable with the expectation that we, and others, will live about 80 years. Not reaching that ripe old age is, by definition, an unmet expectation, which develops into a huge frustration! This causes us to cry and rage and throw uncontrollable tantrums in agony. “Not fair!” we scream. “How could God do this to us/me?”
That 80-year data point is an average. Some people live to 110, others pass away naturally by 50. Some are genetically disposed to short lives. Others are graced with the genes to last so long they don’t even want to be here anymore.
Our K/Js get so comfortable with that 80-year mark that we think of it as a guarantee. But really it’s what statisticians call the gambler’s dilemma. For example, Albert Pujols is a .300 hitter. He’s gotten two hits in his last nine at bats so he’s guaranteed a hit this time at bat, right?
It doesn’t work that way. He’s still a .300 hitter, and he has a 30% chance this time at bat, just like every other time he’s at bat. That means he has a 70% chance of not getting a hit.
In the lifespan example, 80 years is an average. Some of us will reach 80 and beyond, and some of us will not. Some of us will pass from natural causes, and some of us will die prematurely.
We feel a pang of frustration (mini-grief) when Albert Pujols strikes out and only goes two for his last 10. And that’s just a game. We feel true grief (major frustration) when a child or a young parent dies prematurely. We get seriously in our “get-even” K/J mode when someone knowingly causes this death (the frustration is too great). And there’s no describing the intensity when it happens 3,000 times in two hours.
While our government took severe and violent action in the aftermath of 9/11 (and the actions and their costs continue today), I applied Eckhart Tolle’s three reactions concept. Tolle says that there are really only three reactions anyone can have to anything. We can engage enthusiastically, we can enjoy passively, or we can accept.
So when 9/11 happened, I could choose one of the following: engaging enthusiastically, enjoying passively, or accepting. Like many people, I originally chose accepting. Shit happens. Men have been attacking and killing each other since they were cavemen.
But this past weekend I saw signs that a lot of the country has moved up the chain to enjoying passively or even engaging enthusiastically. While tears flowed, most found strength in remembrance. Children who never met their fathers found words to make us all feel a little more comfortable. Lost sons, mothers, sisters, and brothers were remembered fondly, with little anger toward the individuals responsible.
This is not just accepting what is. It is loving what is. It is healing.