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Michael Gerson: Filling the silence after the sirens

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: April 20, 2013

This is the reason that journalism is a moral enterprise. Truth really does set us free. The discernment of a common set of facts is the only basis for constructive, democratic disagreement. Otherwise, we inhabit fundamentally incommensurable ideological worlds, and power becomes the only way to choose among them. Undermine journalism as a profession and a vocation — which we seem in the process of doing — and something essential is lost.

Tragedy also leads to another type of search, the search for meaning in cruel and apparently random events.

To those most closely affected — those, for example, who held a child for eight years and will not again — the drawing of life lessons by outsiders will seem trivial or callous.

Staring into the abyss

But other families will feel the shock of familiarity — recalling a school shooting, a hospital cancer ward or a sudden accident. A tragedy makes communal what most of us face in isolation — a loss that can't be reconciled with justice. The news breaks, and we stare into the abyss together.

It is true, even if trivial, that tragedy, loss and nobility are often knit in the same fabric. And many in this circumstance turn to faith, not out of arrogant certainty (which life usually breaks in one way or another) but out of fear of the terrible alternative: that the innocent suffer and the universe is indifferent. Such faith is not the opposite of doubt, but haunted by it and inseparable from it. It is the cry to an absent God.

We spend most of our days in denial, until the day it is no longer possible. The options are relatively simple: Either death is final, or love is final. “You wanted justice, didn't you?” says J.B.'s wife in Archibald MacLeish's play. “There isn't any. … Only love.”



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