By Bren Dubay
I had another topic planned for this month’s Brief Thoughts. But today, I can’t stop thinking about keening. This act was once a regular practice in Ireland, my heritage. A simple definition – “keening is the action of wailing in grief for a dead person.”
As I write this, there have been 52 mass shootings in the United States in 2023. If I could, I would orchestrate our entire country, every man, woman, and child, to have one long collective keen. The anguish needs an outlet other than killing one another.
In our culture, too often, grief is suppressed. We hold on to it tightly, not sharing it except with perhaps a few other people. The expression may be tears but rarely is it expansive, from the deepest part of the soul. In the Gaelic Celtic tradition, the community participated in the grieving process together, and it was loud and it was long. In a play I wrote a number of years ago, one of the characters learns she is dying. She is close to a group of women and decides that she will direct them on how to carry out her wake when the inevitable day comes. Throughout the play, they rehearse… not very well. Before I wrote the play, I clearly saw in my mind’s eye a scene without words. This group of American women would lose themselves and grieve. The keening would begin and give way to a traditional Irish dance, danced passionately. There are all sorts of shenanigans, comedy, laughter, and tears before that moment, but when it happened, when they allowed themselves to lose themselves in the sorrow, it worked, and the healing could begin.
Lamenting is an important part of our faith, even if it isn’t a part of our U.S. culture. Jesus lamented. The Psalms lament. We even have a whole book in the Hebrew Scripture with the title. Lamentations. When we don’t grieve, we don’t heal.
The litany of names of those killed and those who did the killing in mass shootings grows. If I listed them here, I would inevitably leave someone out though not intentionally. I would leave off the list a person whose life mattered, who is grieved by a mother, a son, a father, a sibling, a spouse, a best friend, those who knew them intimately and loved them no matter their flaws. So, I write just one name — Tyre Nichols.
My mind is full of thoughts, and my heart is full of prayers. I am lost in them and don’t know what else to do but wail. I wail the litany of names. There are 93 of them who are dead. It is still January. I am spent.
What action can I take after the wailing stops? How do I move forward into the healing that grieving began? What am I propelled to do?
I heard this prayer today:
Teach us to use our gifts in the service of one another, loving our neighbor as you have loved us, that we may be the means through which you answer the prayers of those in need.
Let us be the means through which prayers are answered. That is what I’m propelled to do.