More than we can bear

It usually happens in the early evening when the day's news is summarized. At some point, wedged into a panoply of items, both national and international, comes the report of soldiers killed in Iraq. Over one recent weekend the total was a devastating 14, most lost to roadside bombs with many more wounded. Fourteen. The number is both stark and horrible, as is the number 3,495.

Horrible because it means a young life cut short, the opportunity to live long and fully severed with a terrifying finality. And then there are the families. The death of each troop is a stone dropped in a placid pond, each ripple an emotional tsunami touching hundreds of lives, and we know &

how can we not know? &

that nothing will ever be the same for those who remain behind. It is a grievous loss, one that will never find closure, plagued by the unyielding questions: For what? To what end? Dear God, let it have been for something of value. Of importance. And not just for some hubristic, inarticulate reason that has been, time and again, obscured and distorted.

War or no, if there is but one immutable law of the universe it should be that children will never predecease their parents.

And yet we know that part of the human condition is that parents, daily, receive word that a son or daughter, so deeply cherished, so profoundly loved, has been taken from them. Perhaps in an instant. Perhaps incrementally. Theirs will be a journey into grief and pain that can extinguish all light, shroud every moment, and seem a place with no exit, an unhinged gate that scrapes across the stone walkway when opened. All is wrenching and desiccated, seemingly devoid of meaning. How many parents have walked out into the dead of night and looked to the heavens and silently screamed, Why? How can this be? If there is meaning to be found here, then explain it to me, or I will forsake you forever. Hear this: a just and righteous God would never permit such a thing to happen. Tell me. Show me. Give me a sign. Silence is not an option.

There's a play at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival that attempts to explore and penetrate this startling inequity. It's "Rabbit Hole." A work of art, beautifully written by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by James Edmondson, and powerfully acted, starring Robin Goodrin Nordli, Tyler Layton, Dee Maaske, Bill Geisslinger and Jeris Schaefer. It is simultaneously sad, comedic &

yes, there are moments when it soars with humor &

and profoundly insightful. The play opens some eight months after Becca and Howie have lost their son Danny in an accident. The young boy, just 4-years-old, chasing the family dog, was struck and killed by a car. Suddenly their lives, and the lives of their family &

sister Izzy, and the mother Nat &

are pushed sideways, everyone now painfully off balance.

Life is now viewed through the prism of grief, a grief so powerful that it saturates the silence that fills their home, insinuating itself into every corner. At one point Howie turns to Becca, and through a throat clenched with loss says that everywhere he looks he sees Danny's smudged fingerprints, sees remnants of the small boy that was so deeply enmeshed in their lives, and mourns the loss of his drawings on the refrigerator

Becca can find no comfort or surcease from her unrelenting sorrow, feeling trapped in her self-imposed isolation, her life now lived in a place apart. Her silent lament has become a revetment, a shield, and she is ever ready to fight a pitched battle with anyone who would try and break through. Though Howie talks to others, and joins a group, Becca has decided that her journey will be one she takes alone.

And yet, for all of the permeating sadness of this play, it is a celebration of life, resilient and hopeful. These wonderfully imagined characters, so filled with grief, are also filled with life and they tenaciously, and courageously, move forward, moment by moment, day by day. Gradually, eventually, the void left by Danny is transformed and the unbearable grief becomes less predatory. Life will never be the same. Of course. But it is still life and they will live it. Together.

"Rabbit Hole" will leave shortly. It is a play not to be missed. If it tightens the throat, brings tears to the eyes ... well, so be it. What is art for but to grip our hearts, shift our perspective, move us, and remind us that we share a common humanity. Indeed.

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