President Biden spoke to us commemorating the 500,000 in this country who have died from the pandemic. He addressed the nation, but he spoke to us, each of us, as we try to fathom the loss of so many and so much. We are grieving, and the president, who has experienced grief on a scale few in public office have, consoled us with the eloquence of compassion hard learned.
Mr. Biden assured those of us who now have an aching hole in the center of our being, “You will get through this.” We will survive and find a way to live that carries our loved ones with us with gratitude for their lives. He described those moments when we look across the table to the empty chair, hear the laugh or see the smile of one who is lost to us. He held up our humanity which transcends politics and our position in the world. He touched our hurting hearts with his own.
His words reached beyond where words have use; they brought us to the limit of rational speech. As one who has suffered deeply, he has inhabited worlds where words fail.
But the president stood before a nation where so many are no longer equipped to enter the depth and appreciate the enormity of the mysteries that are life and death. He spoke to a people who do not often speak of the wisdom and humility essential to navigate a world where at some point, we all will suffer.
We have created a culture where so many of us believe every problem has a solution and our intellectual powers will overcome every obstacle. Too many of us have no use for mystery and believe our science will shine its light on all the dark corners of existence.
Yet, 500,000 are dead and we find there is more to reality than our science can either address or explain. What does science have to say to the widow who longs for the touch of her husband, to the child crying for his father?
As we have swept religion from the public square and from our vocabulary. So many no longer have the thought patterns or concepts to grapple with mystery. So, we deny its inevitably. We surround ourselves with the human-made world and deny the possibility of transcendence. Death becomes an affront which we are determined to conquer. In the effort, we destroy the living earth of which we are a part. But we will push forward confident our technological society is the only way to live.
Mr. Biden was talking about something else. His religious faith and his personal suffering has cleared his vision just enough to realize the depth of what it means to be a living creature on a finite planet who ultimately must accept the limits imposed by a reality we can hardly imagine.
Joseph Gainza lives in Marshfield.