Remember light of couple's love and be not broken by woe
The tragedy of newlyweds John and Lynette Rodgers stuns the mind and chills the heart. It makes us spontaneously reach to touch our loved ones, to feel them near. It brings perspective to our worries and resentments. It makes us appreciate the sheer joy of being alive to spend time with those we care about.
It is the job of theologians, of philosophers, of the wise and the accepting, to make sense of the deaths of those two young people: on honeymoon, only six days after their wedding at Holywood's First Presbyterian Church. Only six days after celebrating their love in front of family and friends, of setting off to start their lives together with a South African honeymoon - a honeymoon that was to end last Friday with their deaths in the waters of Western Cape's Plattenberg Bay.
We look at the pictures and what shocks is John and Lynette's lovely ordinariness. They are like the people we know, we love, we care for: she a physiotherapist from Holywood, he an employee with Calvert Office Equipment in east Belfast, from Ballygowan.
Like many of us, Lynette used Facebook to keep friends up-to-date on her wedding plans and to thank them for joining their special day. Speaking of her excitement about the wedding and honeymoon, she had posted: "John and myself would like to thank everyone that joined us on Saturday and for all the well wishes! We greatly appreciate it and had the best day ever. Heading off today so will speak to everyone when we return! Xx".
She had changed her profile photograph to one of her and her four bridesmaids.
How do we make sense of the deaths, far from the rolling hills of their Co Down home, of a 26-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man who should have had a full lifetime of love and - if fate was kind - children, mutual friends, the growth of understanding, companionship and friendship? It is enough to make us shake our heads in profound bafflement.
True, the tragedy will bring out the best of many of us. Friends, neighbours, the people of Holywood and Ballygowan and further afield will rally round to support the bereaved, to comfort and, well, just to be there to show that John and Lynette will never be forgotten, that, in some metaphysical way, they will always be with us. There will be letters and cards from close acquaintances and from complete strangers, all grappling for a form of words to bring a moment's solace.
Whether it is a clergyman searching the Bible, or people calling around for a cup and tea and "just to show our respects", people will try. Even our political leaders have felt compelled to give voice to our collective grief with statements from First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, local MLAs and councillors.
All of this is not only about doing what is right, it is also about making a very powerful gesture - a kind of defiant shout that we will not be totally broken by death and tragedy, that we will do what we can to heal the wounds in many hearts - or at least allow time to lessen the agony of the Rodgers and Reilly families, John and Lynette's friends and colleagues.
And yet, and yet... there is that small voice: is that enough?
Sometimes we have to concede - if only in the darkest corner of hearts - that life is truly horrifying indeed; fierce and wild beyond comprehension. As a journalist, I have seen that time and again: the good and kind and innocent randomly struck down. Their eyes stare out from photographs on news pages, oblivious to the tragedy that was up ahead. And evil men die old and warm in their beds. A cruel senselessness runs through it all. It could drive you slowly mad if you let it.
But - as has already been shown - we are people of faith. By that I don't mean necessarily of religious faith, though some will fasten to that, but I also mean that collectively we believe in some abstract way that we were not meant to be broken, to be forgotten, to be the mere playthings of uncaring, brutal fate and chance.
This double tragedy defies logic. It defies sense. Some may say this defies all the evidence, but when thinking about Lynette and John we shouldn't remember death. No, rather, we should remember love - their love, particular and unique, but also the love that unites us all. It's what makes us keep on "keeping going", as Heaney put it. What keeps us being defiant, being human:
For love is as strong as death, and its jealousy is as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame that cannot be extinguished.
When their loved ones - and we - think of Lynette and John, they shouldn't think of the cold grasp of death. Not in time. Rather, they should remember that brightest of flames.
Doing so can be the hardest, loneliest thing in the world. But what else can anyone do?