It took a few days, but now, I’m mad. I’m mad that tragedy has struck again. I’m mad that the best God seems to be doing right now is staying with us in the tragedies, instead of, you know, STOPPING THEM. Things are not okay. But here’s the thing that bothers me the most (from the human side anyway). It’s not that the whole world doesn’t stop for our grief. It’s that what feels like the whole world took up the “latest” shooting as an example for their own points. Less than 24 hours after SPU was violated by violence, people on both sides of the gun control debate had objectified the SPU community – MY community – as pawns in their agendas. Whether or not good points were made is not what’s important right now.
Folks, a student lost his life at my school, like far, far too many before him at other schools. We have had enough time to fix this problem (Columbine, for example, was FIFTEEN YEARS AGO) and we have done nothing except escalate the hatred for those who oppose us on bipartisan issues, affirming the superficial divisions between us and entrenching ourselves in narrow-mindedness, cynicism and fear. I want to scream, “What right do we have to act surprised when this happens to us?” when a) school shootings are horrifyingly becoming more and more common, b) even so, they are a small fraction of the violence that occurs daily in our country and c) they kind of remind us what has always been true: that life can change in literally an instance. This is not to say that that itself shouldn’t be a source of grief, and it’s not to diminish the anguish of the SPU community. I’m very familiar with this agony: time has only partly healed that which I feel for Columbine.
Speaking of Columbine, I was in lockdown for eight hours in a nearby middle school when that horror unfolded. We were not told what was going on (the administration thought it would “cut down on anxiety”) but we could hear helicopters and sirens…just like I could from where I was during the catastrophe at SPU (except, thanks to social media, I got minute-by-minute updates this time). There were signs and posters of grief mixed with hope dotting the campus within hours…one of them, “Struck down but not destroyed” hit me especially hard. Yes, as a Christian University, we want to witness to the resurrection power and hope we have in Christ. I’m beyond moved that the leaders of my university prayed – fervently, honestly – for, among others, the tortured soul who lashed out against this community. But I personally don’t find cliches helpful, even if they are from Scripture.
Cliches are such because they have truth in them. “Struck down but not destroyed” is no different. In one sense, it’s true. In another sense, though, it’s too early, at least for me, to be able to say that. After the victims of the Columbine shooting were released to the community, my then best friend lost her faith. In some very real way, some part of her was destroyed. To state the obvious, the physical bodies of 15 teenagers were destroyed permanently, and 24 others in various states of permanence, inside that school. At SPU, one freshman lost his life; two other students were wounded. Violence is, by definition, destructive and some things are permanently lost in horrific events like school shootings. We do no one any honor by denying that and in fact, can alienate some in their grief over what they cannot get back in this life. When tragedy brings us together, we need to make space for people to name their dead, their losses and their darkness.
“Why does it take a tragedy to bring us together?” is not exactly the question I’m asking (not just because it, too, is a cliche). I’m also wondering how long this feeling of community and togetherness will last; for me, after less than two weeks, it’s nearly gone. Graduation has ushered in summer for most of us; new classes or new adventures abound. The community at large has gone back to normal; those who can’t are left behind. I realize that the bursting forth of community and togetherness that has been our reality since the incident indicates that bonds have been being formed since before the tragedy; this sort of support and love doesn’t spring up from nothing overnight.
The SPU community has been a family to many and that had been growing, even if sometimes invisibly, long before the violence. Eventually, things really will have to return to a state of “normalcy” so that people can function even as we realize that in some ways, we’ll never be the same again. But, as I’ve said before, my prayer is that tragedy will not be the sustainer and foundation of our expressions of love and care for one another…I want Christ and God in Christ to be those things and everything else for us.