Remember the names
Various drafts of this blog have been rolling around in my mind since Friday afternoon when I began to hear the devastating news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. How to express in words a response to such a deeply dark and painful day? Should I even attempt to do so?My first response was to shed tears of great sorrow. I wept as I heard the news and later listened to President Obama speak from his father’s heart on this matter. In my mind’s eye and as news rolled out, I saw the beloved teachers, school counselor and principal’s faces at our daughters’ elementary school. Our 3rd and 4th grade girls are past the days of running and jumping into mom’s arms at the bus stop, but I could not restrain myself from meeting them at the bottom of the bus stairs and giving them a deep, heartfelt hug. I knew that difficult conversations were in our near future about this event. In time, they each separately made the connection to this event and the lockdown drills at their own schools. How did we get here? After a period of great sadness, my emotions would then cycle around to an overwhelming anger – toward powerful gun lobbies, the unnamed gunman, media circuses, mental health care failures and the violent screens that our children are filling their minds with daily. My emotions were up and down and all around. When the sadness got too heavy, I’d focus back on the anger. Anger is a simpler, easier place to dwell for a time. As a long time assault weapon ban supporter, I was all ready to blast out a blog on this topic on Saturday morning.
But as I went about life, waited and prayed, I heard a different voice and my heart was pricked to consider a different first public response. I had a text exchange with a young and wise friend, read an amazing blog called Vigil, and my heart began to crack open a bit. In my Sunday school class, a friend said in a broken voice, “remember the names”. I held onto that and as I was going through the newspaper last night, I cut out the names of 26 victims and tucked them away in my Bible.
This morning was spent at Better Together, an amazing cross section of women who come together for a time of silence, listening and seeking God’s face. It was difficult to keep my mind on the lesson. During our brief small group sharing time, I expressed my distraction and confusion. I mentioned the list in my Bible and a desire to focus on just one name each day. As we wrapped up, one of the other beautiful women said, “can you read the names out loud?”. I did so in the midst of brokenness and tears. There is something utterly crushing about seeing the ages of 6 and 7 listed after so many of the names. I added the names of the shooter and of his mom. Much anger is directed at them, but I am certain that for a 20 year old to take those actions, there is a very evil, dark and painful backstory. There was power in speaking those names, holding out hands to God and acknowledging that this is too big for us.
In church yesterday, our minister addressed this massacre and reminded us that comfort is not demonstrated in mere words but also comes with action. For me, that time will be soon. But I think that until I was able to remember the names and release them and their families to God, all action would have been fueled primarily by anger rather than by courage and love.
Soon after September 11, 2001, our then 11 year old son drew a beautiful picture. It was a portrait of God with eyes looking down on us. There was one tear that rolled down the face of God. There are no quick and easy explanations or answers for such complex tragedies in our midst. Witnessing such suffering initially calls me to experience a wrecked heart and a quiet awe for such tremendous pain. I, like my son, imagine that God looks upon us and tears flow. Soon, for me, it will be time to add action to these words and tears.