It’s all too familiar: A quiet, safe town; a heinous act of violence; a troubled soul at the center; too many innocent victims; and a dazed community that cannot understand how or why such a thing has happened.
They are the worst kind of parallels to draw, but they are glaring.
When news hits, we are collectively and simultaneously stunned and sickened. The world fixates on these situations because they are so dark and horrific that they immediately conjure in us the fragility of our own lives. As the victims’ names slowly trickle onto the TV screen and newspaper pages a day or so after the event, we learn more about these people. These poor people who died in such a tragic, unthinkable way.
The picture is painted slowly, as it by numbers, and eventually, we see everything in intensely vivid color. It makes it all more real. Though the saturation of the situation floods our capacity for understanding, we cannot look away.
We learn more and more about who did it. The monster who killed all those people. We see photos of the weapons of choice and learn the overwhelming number of rounds of ammunition. Hundreds. We try to wrap our minds around these statistics. We learn of the heroes (like my college friend Annarose’s cousin) and the survivors.
Then we see the neighbors, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, moms and dads, grandparents, and we can imagine their anguish to the point of feeling it ourselves. To the point of crying our own tears.
What happens next is always the same: We talk about it. We mourn. We imagine our families in the same position. We appreciate what we have that much more. The gift of life. The gift of family. We vow to savor each and every hour and to take time for the little things that now seem so very significant.
We damn the perpetrator to hell. We speculate on the illness or life situations that brought him or her to that awful point. We think of ways to stop it all from happening again through gun control or better mental health, etc., etc., etc.
In all of this conjecture and all of these agendas, we eventually lose focus. As time rolls on, these people we have thought so much about are laid to rest. Their families begin the lifelong process of healing. Other things happen in the world and in our own lives. We start to forget. It's sad to say, but it's the truth.
You’d think that history repeating itself would lead to change. But – as we all know -- it happens again. And again. And again.
Four springs ago, 13 people were shot dead in a terrifying killing spree about 2 miles away from our home. The shooter, too, killed himself -- making the death toll 14 with another 4 injured. I was working the university library's circulation desk when it happened. There is a TV in the lobby within view of the desk, and it's always trained on CNN. I saw our city's name and the word M-A-S-S-A-C-R-E, and I immediately felt the wind knocked out of me.
In that moment, I understood what I felt like to be THERE. With evil visiting my corner of the world.
I could write a lot of things about this day and the days that followed. We couldn’t go anywhere without seeing news outposts on nearly every street corner. Just as has been reported in CT, we were told the bodies would remain in the building overnight until the crime could be completely assessed. The image of this scene in my mind was too gruesome to comprehend. I thought of it constantly.
That night, the moon was full and the sky clear. The stars shone brightly, which is a rare sight around my cloudy city. But what I remember most is the wind. The wind whipped wickedly around the town and had come out of nowhere. It was extremely unsettling, blowing down branches and howling over hilltops. I stayed out in the cold for a good 20 minutes just feeling it. Inhaling the anger and injustice and confusion of the day.
In all that turmoil, I sincerely believe I was feeling the souls of those 13 murdered. Dramatic, but I can’t even begin to express how surreal it was. I will never forget it.
I don’t know why I’m writing this today. Certainly not to claim personal identification with what happened in CT, but -- perhaps instead -- to share how the event in our town changed me. Those like it since have carved a groove deeper and deeper into the center of my heart.
What I mean to say is this: Those little children, adults, and their families are all I can think about. The violence -- the evil -- has become all too routine and common. We need change, but for now –- we need to heal.
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