On the morning of Friday, May 10, I drove my wife to the Amtrak station on Staples Mill Road. She was taking the train to visit her 90 year old mother in Connecticut for Mother’s Day. Since the arrival of our first child in 1983, this is probably the only time when we haven’t been together for Mother’s Day, a slight disruption.
For some reason, on Sunday, May 12, I left my school board phone at home while I went through my usual assignments at Trinity United Methodist Church. When I returned home after the last service, I checked that phone. It was full of e-mails related to Godwin High School. Overnight, the school had been significantly vandalized with hateful and threatening graffiti.
After taking care of a few things at home, I drove over to Godwin. When I arrived, I saw crews working with power washers, steel brushes, and solvents to remove those unacceptable words and symbols.
Inside the building, I was briefed by the school’s principal and assorted school board staff about what they knew at this time. Additionally, they were working on updating the Godwin community and planning for the opening of school on Monday.
Sadly, the individuals who were responsible for this mess did not think about the disruption they had created for all of the people at Godwin on a pretty afternoon Sunday afternoon. Nor had they considered the disruptions that would take place in their own lives when Henrico police would follow the evidence and tips that would lead to arrests.
Friday, May 24, my wife and I were attending a backyard celebration at a neighbor’s home for an east coast visit of one of their sons. This young man, a Navy Seal, was here with his wife and children for a few days to reunite with family and friends.
While we were enjoying this very happy occasion, unknown to my wife and I, a tragedy was taking place at a boat marina in Saguaro Lake, Arizona. The youngest son of dear college friends was shot to death. This 33 year old motivational speaker would leave behind a wife expecting their first child—more lives disrupted.
Two days later at a park in Richmond, a 9 year old girl and an 11 year old boy were shot at a community cookout and celebration. The girl died from her wounds. The young man was in serious condition—more lives disrupted.
On the afternoon of Friday, May 31, 12 people are shot and killed at a municipal building in Virginia Beach. The assailant was killed in a shootout with the police—more lives disrupted.
Hey America, in case you haven’t noticed we are a mess.
These senseless acts of violence bring a very predictable post incident response—media coverage for days, politicians commenting, vigils are held, the dead are honored and buried, and the indirectly unaffected go back to our normal routines.
Those whose lives were disrupted by these events will never meet normal again. This disruption is permanent. It hangs around like a surreal, reoccuring bad dream. There is no closure, no light at the end of the tunnel. Normal is buried along with the loved one.
In 1968, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started recording deaths in America that were caused by people using firearms. A December 18, 2018 article by Sarah Mervosh in the New York Times reported that in 2017, 39,773 people died in our country from being shot with a gun. That was up a 1,000 from the previous year. Also in those numbers is another sad finding—almost two-thirds of those deaths were tied to suicides.
Think about this in regard to the 39,773. In our state, the city of Danville has a population of 41,130.
Clearly, much data exists related to gun violence in our country. But, my question is—does this data motivate us to address it? Do we want to wrestle with it, understand it, and correct it? Do we want to stop breaking hearts and disrupting lives? Or, are we content to shrug these disturbing numbers off, and keep moving in the normal.
Each week at Trinity United Methodist Church, I have the responsibility for putting the staff meeting agenda together. Part of that agenda includes a scripture verse, a quote, and some humor.
A few weeks ago, I came upon this quote from Clarissa Pinkola Estes: Our own sorrows seem heavy enough, even when lifted by certain long-term joys. But watching others hurt is the breaker of most any heart.
America, we know, we have watched this breaking of hearts related to gun violence long enough.
So what is the solution?
I’m not sure we can legislate our way out of this mess.
In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, prisoner Ellis “Red” Redding appears before the parole board. A member of the parole board asks Red—“Do you think you have been rehabilitated?”
Director and screen play writer Frank Darabont, wrote these words as Red’s response: “There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that.”
Upon reflection and the disruption of their own lives, I wonder how many trigger pullers feel regret? I wonder if they wish they had chosen to respond differently?
I’m no expert, but I sense that many factors contribute to pulling that trigger and permanently disrupting lives. Family erosion, economic instability, fear, peers, being overlooked, fragile mental health— are among pieces that come to mind.
And since, I work for a church, I wonder where is the church in working to solve this mess? After all, in Galatians 6:2, we are reminded to: Bear one another’s burdens.
Personally, I need to be asking myself some questions too. As an American what am I contributing in trying to solve gun violence? How am I doing in bearing the burdens of those who have lost a loved one to gun violence?
Our son sent me an article from Washington Post sports columnist Barry Svrluga. The article is about his grandfather’s D-Day journal. In one of the grandfather’s letters, he writes the following after learning that his wife had given birth to their son:
Yes, I have a great deal to live for and somehow I have a feeling that I shall come back to the both of them, but if it is God’s wish that I do not, I shall leave with a prayer, that my son shall live a better life and a safer life in his world than the life lived in the world of his father.
“That my son shall live a better life and a safer life in his world than the life lived in the world of his father,” is embedded deep in the hearts of every mother and father. Losing a daughter or a son to gun violence isn’t the type of disruption a parent expects.
Our response to these disruptive, senseless cycles of gun violence is in our hearts.
The real question is— will I use my heart to disrupt this cycle?