In just a very few hours, Lord willing, the friends and family of Andrew Clary will gather together at New Life Church in Blair, Kansas, in a ritual as old as humanity. Beginning with the founding family from the Garden of Eden, we humans have dealt with death and violence. From the crucible of jealousy, anger spilled into wrath and Cain shed his brother’s blood.
I have sometimes wondered what horrific anguish that must have been for Adam and Eve, to stand at the grave of their son and know that he died at his own brother’s hand. The agony of loss compounded with the torture of knowing their surviving son was a murderer. Even to this day, there are parents who must endure similar ordeals when siblings kill siblings.
Though those pains have a different complexity, they are not completely dissimilar to the parents of those who murder others. It is an almost incomprehensible thing to me to try to put myself into the place of those mothers and fathers. It is awful enough when our children wreck their own lives in various ways. If possible, even more awful when they wreck their own lives and the lives of others.
These actions ripple from one life to another to another until the effects and after-effects spread throughout a whole family, neighborhood and community. Lives of children and parents, friends and relatives are inevitably and irreversibly altered. But they are not necessarily ruined.
Even with the loss, the pain and the scars that burn through our deepest parts, humans are still able to live fulfilled and meaningful lives. Even though it seems that we cannot possibly go on, we do. Or at least, we can.
As surely as others made awful, despicable choices that brought us into these circumstances, our own choices will determine where we go from here. We can give in to fear and pain, anger and bitterness, and despair. Or, in spite of the aching numbness, we take one more step, make one more choice in the direction of life. We focus on our loss and our heartache and shut down all other interactions, or we focus upon those that we love and we put our hands and theirs and move toward healing. We can hollow our hearts and our souls with hatred and shackle ourselves as prisoners of those we despise or we can rise above their example and move toward the mercy that sets us free.
Cain was punished but allowed to live by God’s mercy. Adam and Eve had another son, Seth, and grandsons by both Cain and Seth. They did not see loving them as dishonoring Abel, who has been with God ever since.
We do not defile the memories of those who loved us by moving on with our lives; we honor them.