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Tragedy evokes memories, questions

When I heard Friday about the terrible events that ended 26 lives -- most of them as they were just beginning -- my thoughts went back to 2009. That year a friend and colleague of my husband died in early November in Germany, just days after a gunman took the lives of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas.

No individual grief is comparable to another. No terrible outcome can be adequately explained to the bereaved. As I contemplated a response to what happened this week, I realized that my thoughts now are very similar to words I wrote during the Christmas season three years ago:

Dec. 20, 2009 -- My sister was in the delivery room of an Oklahoma hospital, about to give birth to her first baby, but I was worlds away at a memorial service in Germany.

The chapel was full. I sat next to my husband, who was in uniform, like so many others there who had lost a friend and colleague.

Our minds were filled with questions. Those who stood before us to speak — to honor a friend and his faith — admitted they could not answer all those questions. Instead, they reaffirmed what they did know: The faith of our friend was the center of his life. His life was much too short. God has not changed.

I listened to their words about love, grief and elusive comfort, and I thought of my sister and the baby soon to come. A liturgical quote ran through my mind. How does it go? “In the midst of life we are in death.” Or should it be the other way around?

That evening, we gathered with friends to eat, to talk and to draw strength from each other. Then we said good night, each falling asleep saying prayers for a family changed forever.
Next morning, in the dark hours before dawn, e-mail brought tidings of great joy. A child was born.

My new niece had arrived — 8 pounds of brand-new life. Another family was changed forever.

A friend dies, and we grieve. We face his mortality and ours, reminded how little power we wield over each day’s events.

A child is born, and we celebrate. We face immortality, and remember again the power that belongs in larger hands than ours.

That day we felt the sting of death, but in the darkness a baby was born — as our faith was also born as a child on a dark night.

During the memorial service for our friend, great faith was expressed, but it was evident that even the strongest faith would not wipe out the pain and loss. Nor would it provide all the answers to our questions.

The deepest questions of life and death may not be answered between the advent of the former and the finality of the latter. But faith whispers to me that there is something beyond this painful uncertainty.

Faith insists that life is more than what happens between cradle and grave, that birth and death are not just biographical bookends or elements of a mindless cycle, equal and opposite and each canceling out the other.

Now it’s Christmastime. Despite evidence to the contrary, cards, commercials and sermons declare “Peace on Earth.”

Is this just a hollow phrase when war shapes the lives of military families, when our community bears the scars of PTSD and IEDs, when a friend is gone and a widow’s loss is still a raw wound?

Some questions will remain unanswered. But faith will also remain, and with it hope and love — an intangible yet invincible trinity.

No, peace has not stilled all conflict in our world, but “Peace on earth” is not an empty sentiment. It is a statement of hope arising from the promises of faith and the birth of a child.

Faith does not ignore facts. Life is short. Death is real. Those who love will also grieve. These truths are solid, carved on countless tombstones, but they don’t hold the final words for me.

For that, I choose faith that makes me sure of what I hope for even when I cannot see it. I choose faith, because a child is born.

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About the Author

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three living in Illinois. She writes "Spouse Calls" weekly for Stars and Stripes and is the author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life. Leave comments on the blog or write to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.


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