By Ken Trainor
The flags are at half-staff.
I can't remember the last time they weren't.
What a week.
That was when all hell broke loose. April 15-22 has turned into one of the strangest weeks in our calendar year. It starts with Tax Day and ends with Earth Day (though that's technically eight days). Over the years, its occurrences have been more infamous than famous, and we have accrued some horrific anniversaries: Hitler's birthday, the Branch Davidians in Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine High School, and now the Boston Marathon Massacre and the West, Texas fertilizer plant apocalypse.
Closer to home, there was the funeral for Anne Smedinghoff, one of our own, victim of the same kind of irrational extremism that led to the Boston bombings and most of the other aforementioned abominations. Services for the Foreign Service officer who died in Afghanistan took place during the latest "deluge of the century," courtesy of global warming — though the weather was cold as, well, hell, and the day after, the rain finally ended, it snowed.
I used to love thunderstorms and heavy rains. Not any more. "Weather events" disrupt too many lives. When the skies let loose, all I feel is vulnerable and wonder who's going to suffer this time.
A week ago Monday, as I was trying to contend with an avalanche of obituaries (what a month this has been for dying), I heard the news from Boston. A Jonah day to be sure
And yet … and yet …
Just as every coin has a flip side and every cloud a silver lining, so every week from hell comes with a glimpse of heaven.
The week that began with the worst Patriots Day in Boston's history (let's hope) ended with Bostonians pouring into the streets, wildly celebrating. The good citizens of Bean Town had, of course, already demonstrated the remarkable resilience, courage, compassion and volunteerism that marks every community's response in the wake of disaster. We aren't as good at preventing the wounds, but we sure know how to come to the aid of the wounded.
Because our lives are so interconnected, we are always a community, but we aren't always in communion. When things are going well, oddly, we grow more disconnected. We atomize. We don't need each other as much.
When things go badly, we lean on one another, depend on one another, give generously to those who need our help. We tighten the ties that bind. From the loose interconnections that define community, we reach a higher level: communion.
River Foresters understand this. First the funeral, then the flooding. Every tree circled with a white ribbon. Plenty in Oak Park, too. People lining the funeral route after Mass at St. Luke's, the rain providing the perfect external correlative for internal grief. The Smedinghoff family was fully embraced, circled by a white-ribbon community — a step up from black or blue.
Then it was time to sandbag. This is not an easy era to live near the Des Plaines River. Our relationship with nature is becoming more and more adversarial as we continue to violate our planet. We're paying the consequences.
Meanwhile, a frigid March and April have delayed the Earth's awakening. Yet the week's deep drenching almost instantly greened our ground. Daffodils bloomed in spite of the chilly reception.
And the week ended with a warmer, more hopeful Earth Day on Monday, as if the world were saying, "It's not too late for hope — and for change."
Spring is nature's firm statement that perseverance pays off, that life comes back and comes out on top, that what has come apart will come back together, albeit in a new form.
Boston is learning that lesson anew. The Smedinghoff family may take a while longer, but they'll learn it too. If Anne is any indication, that family is quite a unit. At the very least, they know they have an entire community rooting for them.
That's the nature of communion.