Much has been written and spoken about the horrifying killings at the Colorado showing of "The Dark Knight Rising." Several have written about the heroism of those who gave their lives to save loved companions. Many more have expressed compassion for those whose lives have been cut short - and for those who grieve them.
Others have rightly pointed out the craziness of selling guns to the mentally ill and our politicians' craven fear of the NRA by not confronting the inadequacies of our nation's gun laws.
As important as all that is (and it is very important), I want to write about something else. I'd like to examine a much broader issue: the fragility of life itself. Sadly, life is cut short by massacres, firearms and murders, but also in many other ways. For example, in 2009 there were 33,945 traffic deaths in the United States. Other accidents from violent weather and human error take countless more. That's a lot of sudden, unexpected death. As Jesus told us, "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour" (Matthew 25:13).
Our reflections on death, however, do not have to be morbid. Instead in an ironic way they can give focus and energy to our living. As the cancerous politician Paul Tsongas told us, "Don't fear your mortality, because it is this very mortality that gives meaning and depth and poignancy to all the days that will be granted to you."
And Elizabeth Kubler Ross voiced the same insight, "It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up - that we will begin to live each day to the fullest."
Death, moreover, comes to us all: to celebrities, athletes, popes and presidents. It is the great leveler. As the Italian proverb put it, "Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box."
John Henry Newman told us we should not so much fear death, but be afraid of not living fully. Listen to the Cardinal, "Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning."
I think of the hymn by David Tamulevich on the shortness of life and living it fully.
Ours is a simple faith.
Life is a short embrace.
Heaven is in this place - everyday.
Hope is the ground we till.
Make each day what you will.
Thankful for dreams fulfilled - everyday.
For those of us who believe in an afterlife, death loses its sting. There is a Hassidic saying that the angels weep when someone leaves them to be born and rejoice when he dies and returns to spirit. And Eckhart Tolle tells us, "Death is not the opposite of life. Life has no opposite. The opposite of death is birth. Life is eternal."
If life is eternal, life's fragility (it is a "short embrace") should not frighten or distress us.
Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/