Friday, February 6, 2009

Grief and Solidarity

What woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” (Luke 15:8-9)

The 12th hostage, Sigifredo López, the only survivor from the group of diputados kidnapped seven years ago by the FARC, has come home. Fr. Hoyos’ brother, Jairo, was among the eleven the FARC killed two years ago. And I am struck by the different reactions of the hostages’ families to this event.

Sigifredo’s wife, Patricia Nieto, acknowledged the pain the other families must be feeling but also invited them to join in the joyous celebration now that her husband — her “coin” — has been found. It was not an egotistical expression of satisfaction that ignored other people’s pain but an invitation like St. Paul extends to the Christian community to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)

Some family members, even though their own “coins” are dead and lost forever, responded in kind because a solidarity has developed among them that transcends their individual grieving. I was particularly touched by Fr. Hoyos’ sister-in-law, Carmen de Hoyos’ generous and faith-filled words: “Estoy demasiado feliz, demasiado contenta, porque Dios nos hizo el milagro de traerlo a él a la libertad, al seno de su familia. Quiero estar acompañando a Sigifredo en todos los actos de bienvenida. Siento como si estuviera llegando mi esposo. Nosotros ya sabemos lo que pasó con Jairo, lo tenemos en un sitio donde vamos a visitarlo. Lo de Sigifredo es un resucitar.” At the homecoming Mass for Sigifredo she added: “Estoy ansiosa por abrazar a Sigifredo. A Jairo Javier, Dios ya me lo entregó”.

She said her faith had kept her strong and of her late husband: “Yo sólo lo recuerdo con amor, con el mismo amor que evoco a sus compañeros muertos. Con admiración profunda porque soportaron y lucharon como héroes”. Her son, Jhon Jairo Hoyos, added: “Esperamos que Sigifredo nos pueda contar detalles de cómo fueron esos años de cautiverio, cómo murió mi padre y sus compañeros y qué padecieron. Por ahora felices y a la espera de un reencuentro y una recuperación. Él no regresa solo, él viene con 11 almas y recuerdos que vamos a recordar".

For others, however, Sigifredo’s release only poured salt on their wounds. Why could it not have been MY brother, MY father, who stepped off that helicopter? Seeing Sigifredo being embraced by his teenage sons didn’t make them smile; it only deepened their pain, anger and sense of loss. It was almost as if joining in the López family’s joy would diminish the memory of their loved ones. But if we only look at other people’s blessings through the prism of our own misfortune, we miss so many opportunities for happiness. Life is not a zero sum game where another’s success is inextricably linked to my failure.

Sometimes the anger comes from impotence. There is an unrealistic expectation that there must have been something we could have done, should have done, that would have saved the life of our loved one. Fr. Hoyos: “Ahora en este momento se nos remueven los recuerdos y la conciencia de haber querido hacer más y haberlos traído vivos y darles la bienvenida no sólo a Sigifredo sino a los 12 diputados. Pues el dolor de sus ausencias es el mismo hoy, pareciera que fue ayer cuando nos dieron la noticia del asesinato de los 11 diputados.”

Oigame, Padre H.: There is nothing, NOTHING more you could have done that would have saved Jairo and the other hostages. The FARC did not plan to kill your brother. He was supposed to have been part of a prisoner exchange. The choice to kill the hostages was senseless — made in a moment of panic and fear, not of deliberate calculation. Remember the dental floss found in their mouths.

The best way we can honor Jairo and the others is to follow Carmen’s example and let go of anger and guilt, try to really share the joy of Sigifredo’s family, and keep working for the release of ALL the hostages in Colombia.

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