A Reflection on the Berkeley Tragedy … ‘Who do we belong to?’

A Gathering in the wake of the Berkeley Tragedy.

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(Photo taken on Mount Brandon looking out over the Atlantic Ocean towards the United States)

DIT Aungier St.

Thursday the 18th of June 2015

Remembering Eoghan Culligan and all who are affected by this tragic event.

Fr. Alan Hilliard, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy Service. alan.hilliard@dit.ie

Last Tuesday was a day in DIT that I’ll not forget for a long time to come. My Facebook page saw many students delight in the fact that they were now graduates, qualified to pursue their dreams. Another stream of information that was opening up saw an awful vista where dreams were falling apart.  My own week was punctuated with extremes. On Saturday we marked my own father’s ninetieth birthday. Today I stand with you trying to mark the passing of Eoghan who is a student of this institute, Nicollai, who was a student here for one year, Ashley, Olivia, Eimear and Lorcan. There is not a lot of difference between the  sum of their ages and my father’s age.

We spend our lives trying to live at one extreme; that of laughter, fun, achievement and flourishing. And so we should. These extremes are what we might call the default setting of our age and for this we are very fortunate. However, sometimes the energy required to live at these extremes is stolen from us. Events occur that turn everything upside-down and we can sometimes wonder if darkness is the place where we shall dwell minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day and even week after week. The default setting collapses and we don’t know how or where to reboot.

The events his week are particularly extenuating caused by what Australians used to refer to as  ‘the tyranny of distance’. Families, friends and support are separated by airports, miles and untold emotional barriers which cannot be solved by multimedia mediums. I spent many years working with Irish emigrants many of whom were successful and happy but many of whom experienced loss and tragedy. Some were unable to relate their difficulties to those at home. As a result I watched as people artfully and creatively put other systems of support, care and love in place. Where friends became family and tragedy became a foundation for a new way of living and a new default setting. I do not wish to promote tragedy as away of redefining life; in truth I would love that each and every person’s default position was the one of laughter, fun, achievement and flourishing and I am quite convinced that the God I believe in would want that too.

As we gather today we know that as much as we’d wish for this default position we cannot promise or guarantee it to one another. However we can assist one another as we try to find a comfortable place from which we can begin to view or even glimpse a road towards contentment again. Experience tells me that times like this beg one question; this one question is at the heart of a lot of our struggle in the face of this tragedy today. Those who are directly and indirectly affected by this event ask ‘who do we or I belong to?’ The nature of this tragedy and the tyranny of distance make this question ring with even louder decibles in our hearts and minds. This may be particularly the case for those of you viewing on-line.

The answer, like the question, is not necessarily verbalised but it is being asked and it is being answered. The desire to be with someone or with many tells us that first and foremost we don’t belong on our own. The work of officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Pastoral Care Centre in San Francisco are actively involved in answering this question by connecting those who were affected in varying degrees by this tragedy. They may not be using words but they are answering this precise question; ‘who do I or we belong to?’.  These organisations were and are working diligently to bring together those who belong to one another.

Today’s refection is a small and simple outreach from DIT to those of you who belong here. We remember Eoghan and all who have died. We struggle to articulate how those have died ‘belong’ to us now. We reach out to you physically present, those watching on our live stream and we want to let you know that we can help if the default position has slipped. The services are here for you and even if is only to drop in for a cuppa to the Students Union or the Chaplaincy or if you need to avail of the counselling or medical service please feel you are welcome. For those of you who knew Eoghan and Niccolai you are especially welcome because your belonging here was shared with them in a special way.

As you are aware I am the chaplain here and am privileged to share this post with a wonderful team of Chaplains and colleagues in Campus Life and Student Services. As a Chaplain who happens to be a Catholic Priest I’d like to share something with you. One thing I notice in my faith tradition is that the stories after the event referred to as The Resurrection are stories about belonging. They tell stories of people who felt emotionally, physically and spiritually isolated who were gathered together so that they could feel that they could live again. That couldn’t happen until they felt that they belonged. Whether we view these stories through eyes of faith or with eyes that are not of faith they have a very important message for us. This message is that the journey back begins with belonging. They beg of us to create places and spaces of belonging in this world that are safe, secure , enriching and life-giving for our fellow human beings with whom we belong.  Those associated with a third level institute have special responsibilities to inform the world how each and every sector can place human belonging at the pinnacle of its discipline.

The line at the back of the booklet is one that is often used to refer to those who have died; it reads ‘Life is changed not ended’. If we are honest a tragedy such as this changes us all. This change may even be that we name and cherish those to whom we belong. When we go home this evening or when we return from abroad we may find that there is a difference in the way we engage with those to with whom we belong. A hug or kiss may be a little longer, a visit to a parent may not be as rushed, the coffee with that friend who always listens may develop into a second cup , the person who has been struggling and who we’ve been meaning to visit for a while may open the door and find standing there smiling. In a particular way we hope that through our actions that those who have experienced life changing injuries may feel comfortable enough to come home in the knowledge that they sill belong to us and that we can find ways to nurture and accommodate their sense of belonging. And to those who have lost a loved one let us be inspired by those stories I referred to earlier and let us walk with them at a pace of their choosing.

We remember especially Eoghan and all those who have died. Though we’d prefer to have them among us we live in the hope that their life has not just ended but has changed in a manner beyond our wildest imaginings; where the default position is one of love and joy without blemish and  for ever. May they rest in peace.

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