I opened my laptop around noon on Friday. Compelled by puzzling Facebook updates and emails from our kids’ principal and pastor, I typed in the first news website that came to mind. I read the headline, stunned and silent.
As I read more details, the tears came. I grieved and sobbed at the kitchen table, alone in my house.
Three hours later, as I was pulling out of my garage to pick up my kids from school, I noticed a white Suburban in my friend Karen’s driveway. I knew it belonged to Julie, Karen’s friend with five kids.
Their husbands often have to be away for work, so Karen and Julie frequently have dinner together, enjoying the company of another mom who’s comfortable with the chaos of nine kids under nine running around.
As I drove past Julie’s Suburban I thought, This is beautiful. I was pretty sure Julie and Karen must have decided that this wasn’t a good day to be alone. The fact that one of them, on this dark day, took the simple step of inviting the other over (or inviting herself over), was deeply beautiful to me.
I noticed the contrast. I chose to remain alone in my house, crying with my computer.
I chose isolation.
They chose to be in the presence of another human being. To hug and cry with a real, live person, even at the risk of feeling foolish for messy, unpredictable emotions.
They reached for community.
In my Advent reading this morning, Henri Nouwen pointed out that in the early part of the Christmas story neither Mary nor her cousin Elizabeth experienced the waiting of her unexpected pregnancy in isolation. They spent three months of their pregnancies together in Elizabeth’s home.
God’s most radical intervention into history was listened to and received in community,” Nouwen said. “How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it?
I can experience Emmanuel, “God with us,” when I’m alone in my house or car. God is with me when no one else is around. But this season also reminds me that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Or as another translation puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.”
I need to meet God more often in the flesh, blood and embrace of my friends and neighbors.
I hope and pray that our Newtown neighbors will experience God-with-us love and God-in-flesh comfort in the arms and homes of their communities: communities of faith, family, neighbors and friends.