Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life


A Rabbi’s Words about the Zoo Tragedy

For those of you who, like me, are still ‘sitting with’ the tragedy that happened last Sunday at the zoo (see previous post), I want to share a response that I just encountered in our local newspaper.  Written by a Rabbi who is also down the road from the zoo, it speaks about the necessity of silence in the face of such great suffering.


I re-post it for you because this family and the bystanders are still heavy on my heart.  I have heard so many words about this tragedy, and the majority have been each individual’s interpretation of who was to blame for it.  I get this–we want to know why it happened and how such a thing could have been avoided.  Coming up with an explanation gives some comfort.  If only the mother or the zoo or the bystanders… or God… would have acted differently… then…

I get this.  I “wear my heart outside of my body” (i.e. in my oh-so-very-mortal children) too.

But I still think that this Rabbi has a point.


You Know

The thought came unbidden.

“Oh God, I hope that it’s not someone I know.”

Immediately I was ashamed of myself.  What does it matter?  If it happened to a stranger, does that make what happened any less tragic?  Oh God…

On my lap a child wriggled as I read the article on my brother’s phone.  Zoo tragedy.  Wild dog exhibit.  Two year old.  Fell.  Mauled.

I shushed my brother and his girlfriend’s conversation, not wanting my own very-much-alive children to hear that horrible word and ask me… Mama, what does ‘mauled’ mean?


It happened just before noon on Sunday, just up the road from the church where… at that moment… we were most likely singing.  It happened just up the road, at the zoo we know, and I could picture the very spot where that exhibit is open, the place where two-year-olds ask… “Mama, pick me up?”


The blame comes as sure as the grief.  The zoo.  They shouldn’t have had that open space.  It was dangerous.  The dogs weren’t safe… they escaped in May… what were they thinking… valuing animals more than people… something like this was bound to happen.  The mother… why wasn’t she holding him more tightly… she shouldn’t have let him up there… this is why those child backpack/leash things aren’t such a bad idea… you’ve got to be careful with your kids.  The bystanders… why didn’t someone jump down and fight the dogs off?

And I’m sure that the zoo employees… the mother… the bystanders… are asking themselves even worse questions…

Even as parents like me remember times when we have lifted up our own children to see the doggies.


At the zoo people gathered… screaming, crying…  and down the road we gathered… singing.  We didn’t know, but we do know.

We too have lost children.

We too have been to blame.  And not to blame.  It all gets mixed up when a tragedy happens.  What if I hadn’t lifted him up?  What if I had held her hand?  What if I hadn’t let him go out that night?  What if I had told her not to date that boy?  What if I had reached out to him when he was younger?  What if I had taken the time to listen to her?

What if I could have stopped this from happening?

If I know anything, I know this–the ‘what if” questions are unanswerable.

And we don’t sing because we know the answers.  We sing because we love and are loved anyway.  We sing because our hearts are breaking and the world is hard and sometimes we are part of what makes it so bad, and yet… and yet, there is grace enough.  We sing because we don’t know what to do and yet we do know what to do–say help, say thank you, say I’m sorry, say how-in-the-world-can-this-happen, say I’m angry, say I’m scared.  We sing because we believe that someone is listening to all this.


Oh God, this mother… this father… this child… you know them.  You know them.  May this be enough for today.