There is No Hierarchy of Grief

There is no hierarchy of grief. Suffering is suffering. There have been countless innocent people murdered, people of every color, every country, every path of privilege and poverty. When we attempt to rank one tragedy or loss over another, we are slipping into a terrible abyss void of compassion. See the face of the holy in every human being. Every story is worthy of our compassion. Whether we are willing to step up to the task, and how we can support one another, is worthy of conversation.

One of the most powerful prayer experiences I have, on a consistent basis, is when I say Kaddish for those whose deaths have been anonymous, those who have no one to say Kaddish for them, those whose names, faces, stories are not known to me.

One of my favorite poems by Thich Nhat Hanh speaks powerfully to the truth of our shared humanity:


Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply; I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and the death
of all that are alive.

I am the may fly metamorphosing on the
surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the may fly.

I am a frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond,
and I am the grass-snake who, approaching
in silence, feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee
on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of Politburo, with plenty
of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his
“debt of blood” to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring so warm it makes
flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills
all four oceans.

Please call me by my true names so I can hear
all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake
up and so the doors of my heart can be left
open, the door of compassion.

Love. Tears. Unspeakable Grief. None of us are immune; nor are we exempt from healing. Casting out a wide net of compassion and support.