On most ordinary days, waking up is a process of catching up to the movements of light and life that have already arrived ahead of us in this valley where we live. The turning of earth has already begun the spinning of another day’s worth of promises to keep, and I scarcely notice the eloquence of the living world around me: the yawn and stretch of my dog, the bitterness of coffee on the tongue, the glimpse of a familiar face on a path, the fronts of autumn weather moving overhead. A liturgy I love begins, “Thanks be to God that we have risen this day to the rising of life itself” – but most days I hardly notice the facets of the life whose rising I’m already scrambling to catch up with.
Last Tuesday began as that kind of day – but before most of us had taken more than the first few steps in the sprint to catch up with it, the day turned on a terrible new axis, and left us groping for light, fearful for life. It became one of those days, of which there are perhaps less than a handful in anyone’s life, about which you’ll remember virtually everything: where you were when you heard, who you were with, what you saw, what you had to put aside in order to make room for this terrible new truth. The day that rose out of the golden autumn light overtook us, and burned itself not only into our personal histories, but burned itself onto the retina of a community. “Where were you that day?” they’ll ask us someday – and whatever else we do or don’t have in common, however we may or may not stay woven into each other’s lives, some part of the answer for all of us will be: “I was at Williams.”
For a while now it will be hard not to notice the life to which we rise each day: the glimpse of a face now with its priceless value exposed, the sound of a voice we love like life itself on the other end of the phone, the exhilaration of a new idea, the possibilities for nuance in the singing of a choral passage, a fresh slant of light on a lawn or an equation. . . And the bitterness of grief and anger on the tongue, the knots of fear and the cold of powerlessness, the movement of fronts of political weather heaving across the world’s wide sky. . .
And it will matter to us more than any of us realize now that we were here when it happened – that we were together in this place, with the light slanting around us the way it does here and the with savor of a new year still on our tongues. It will matter because these are the people from whom we are learning the wideness of the world, and the volatile delicacy of its disagreements and differences. These are the people with whom we are exploring the meanings of justice and compassion, and aching for ways to respond, ways to make meaning out of terrible suffering. It will matter that we were here, together, because when the terrible light of Tuesday morning wrenched our eyes open and burned one morning in time onto the retina of all our hearts, what we saw first was the preciousness of each other, the eloquent beauty of the world we share, and the unmistakable call to rise together to the rising of life itself, out of the very ashes of death, to make and to keep promises about how to help restore the movements of light and life, hope and healing, to this wounded world.