I was having a great day.
I had slept well and felt refreshed.
I got some work done.
All my sports teams had won.
And by chance I flipped channels over to the Newtown memorial service and just lost it. Tears and sorrow flowed. The relativity of my day compared to the subject of that service was crushing. That the service was so beautiful is why I lost it. That service was as nice as I have ever seen of a multi-denominational event. So many faiths were represented; there were many variations of Christianity, but there were also Jews and B'Hai, and even Muslim, etc. But I did not see Buddhism. Each faith's representative took to the lectern to offer prayers to God, and those that sang their prayers I found especially moving. It was wonderful and there was nothing in any way wrong with it.
All those faiths had one thing in common: an entreaty to another, God, to alleviate their suffering. God was not alone in this task, but He was in charge. I am a firm believer in God because of some very powerful experiences in my life, so I have no real issue with all those faiths' entreaties. But my question is if a Buddhist priest were invited to that service (surely there are Buddhists in that community, right?), what could they offer as comfort?
We, as a natural human reaction in times like this, want that hug from another, and maybe especially The Other. It is quite normal that we feel a need for that external comfort, but providing this is not a strength of Buddhism, and maybe partly an explanation of why it is not more popular. Buddhism requires harder work, more internal reflection, and also because of my experience I embrace this heartily. But acceptance of emptiness can seem very heartless to those of other faiths in the context of such a terrible tragedy. We have Avalokitesvara, but it is so easy to make her/him a saint, just another external source of comfort instead of internalizing those actions.
I know this is an old debate, an old question, usually one I now avoid here, but this new context brings it to mind, and it seems worthy enough to reintroduce in a slightly different way:
If one had the chance, what would a Buddhist (priest) say to comfort those at Newtown?
What can one of us say to comfort without calling on the Other?