Life goes on.
In early October 2006, a gunman entered a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish part of Pennsylvania and took all the girls hostage, letting the boys and the pregnant teacher leave. When police arrived he shot ten of the girls, killing five, before killing himself.
By that evening, members of the Amish community, including family members of some of the slain girls, contacted the gunman’s family, offering support and forgiveness.
“We must not think evil of this man,” a spokesman for the community is reported to have said.
What does he know that I don’t? How are people able to forgive and offer sympathy so quickly after a tragedy?
Since learning of the incident I have struggled to come to terms with the response of the Amish community. I now believe they were able to offer such public support and forgiveness because they know life goes on.
One of the gifts of middle age is the realization that bad things happen to all of us in life. They may come to us early; they may come to us late. But pain comes to everyone and the lessons of the second half of life are mostly about loss: losing loved ones, losing mobility, losing eyesight, hearing, memory, perhaps even one’s mind.
Believing that life goes on, however, means taking comfort in waking each day. No matter my back hurts. No matter my knees, elbows and neck are often stiff for moments that stretch into minutes as I move deeper into middle age.
My parents’ deaths a little more than two years’ apart left me reeling. The end of my first marriage was incredibly painful. My eldest daughter’s decision to move to Ireland when she got married was a surprise. But life goes on.
I am remarried. I have a 10 year old step daughter, an eighteen-month old son, and a daughter who will be born in May.
There are some losses I hope I never have to experience. The loss of one of my children, for example, or the awful, slow dwindling to darkness of some diseases. But even should those things occur, I take comfort in believing that life goes on. Children are born, grow, marry, have children of their own.
Even should catastrophe strike our species on a grand scale – a large asteroid impact or the extinction of the sun – I believe that life will go on somewhere in the universe. We know that matter and energy are inextricably bound to one another and that, in some fashion, nothing really ever goes away. It just changes form.
One thing morphs to another. Life goes on.
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