He was 7 years old. Sitting at his kitchen table on a late spring evening, playing on his iPad and eating cake. Everything about it could have been my own daughter, sitting at our own table, playing on her Kindle, having a snack.
Only outside the window of his house, a fight had broken out. Guns were pulled. And a bullet from one of those guns smashed through his kitchen window and hit him. In the head. And a while later, he was pronounced dead at our local children’s hospital. The most skilled and compassionate of doctors unable to save him.
They were kids. Young and full of life and ready to sing and dance the night away at a pop star’s concert. Just like me 20, 25, or 30 years ago, at New Kids on the Block, or the Eagles, or Aerosmith–all concerts I attended in my youth with the same spirit of celebration and excitement.
Kids. Bopping along to the music one minute, lives torn apart and destroyed the next by a suicide bomber. Just like that. Destruction, at the hands of a special kind of hate and evil that does not hesitate to snuff out the lives and shatter the dreams of the most innocent among us.
Kids. Just kids. Snatched from their lives, their kitchen tables, their families, by the anger and hate brewing in someone else, anger and hate that has nothing do with our children and everything to do with the world that seems to have literally gone mad.
“Shot through the heart,” a local cartoonist labeled his drawing about the 7 year old. It was of a fleur-de-lis, our city’s symbol, a smoking hole at its center. How true the words ring…because when our children are dying, we are, in fact, handing our very souls over to the very worst of humanity.
When our children are dying–and they are ALL our children–we fail, miserably and decisively, at being human. When our children are dying, we’ve lost such sight of what it means to have been created first and foremost in love, that I cannot begin to imagine how we’ll ever remember.
I know. I know… A lot of you want to talk about gun control (or not). A lot of you want to talk about religious extremism and its destructive grip on our world. A lot of you want to point fingers. And cast blame. And I get it. We want to find some reason, some understandable process or instance that led to that 7 year old being shot less than 10 miles from my house and those children being killed at a concert in England. Because such tragedy has to have something that caused it, right? Something that led to it. That someone else is responsible for. That we did not contribute to. Because the alternative is too awful to name–that such heartbreaking shit simply happens, and we live in a world that has become so focused on greed and hate and defining “the other,” that we’re now sacrificing our children to the madness.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, before we inevitably politicize these unbelievably horrible events, and debate and scream at each other over who’s right and who’s wrong in finding a solution to such terror, could we all just take a damn breath and grieve? Let our hearts fall apart and our tears flow and feel the complete awfulness of it all? Can we step into the aisle, reach across the road, attempt to slide into the shoes of someone else’s pain, and simply acknowledge the searing heartache of children being murdered?
I cannot believe it was in God’s plan for a 7 year old to be gunned down while eating cake. I cannot believe it was God’s plan for those kids dancing to Ariana Grande to be blown to bits in the blink of an eye. And I cannot pretend it doesn’t matter. I cannot hold it at a distance and keep it from breaking my own heart over and over.
Because it does matter. And there is no doubt that in all of this, evil is at work. Hate is in control. And anger has take the main stage. And from where I sit, no one’s heart is breaking more than the heart of the God who I believe, with every fiber of my being, created us in love, to love one another. Unconditionally. No strings attached.
How we’ve shot that plan of loving one another all to hell these days….
It feels so completely hopeless. All of it. Even to my doggedly determined hopeful heart.
…in between that 7 year old being shot, and that concert in Manchester being blown up, I attended the 4th grade awards ceremony at my daughter’s school. And I watched as my daughter and her peers received awards both academic and social–there was a “leadership” award, and a “kindness” award, and a “helper” award, and an award for contributing to good class discussion. And these kids, they just lit up when their names were called and they were recognized for the complete goodness they’ve each contributed to their school community. A lump rose in my throat on more than one occasion. Because good lord, y’all–these kids, they were on fire for one another and the school they love.
One kid sat in the back. And I won’t even pretend to know his story, but I know that he looked kind of alone. And there weren’t any parents or grandparents or other trusted adults with him for the ceremony.
Except one–the school’s assistant principal, who is hands down one of the finest men I have ever known. And he sat with this kid through the whole thing. And stood and clapped for him when the kid received an award. And talked to him and was present with him. Just this one kid. And I thought to myself, “Whatever is happening there–it matters. Whatever story is unfolding–this moment may just make all the difference in that kid’s life.”
Y’all, I am holding on to the joy of that awards ceremony, the image of the assistant principal and that kid with all I’ve got this week. Because something about that 45 minutes at my daughter’s school reminded me that all is not lost. Not by a longshot. Not when there are children like those kids still committed to caring for one another and their community, because it’s being modeled for them by a group of adults who want the leave the world better than they found it.
Hope is sometimes adamantly searching for the tiniest bit of light in a time that seems so very dark and holding on to it. With all we’ve got. Insistently. Even irrationally. And even if it seems that the glimmer cannot possibly continue to glow in the face of the darkness.
This week, in the midst of heartache, my tiny glimmer is holding fast at Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School–where some of the finest kids I know are learning what it means to stand in opposition to hate and anger and breed kindness and love instead. And my deep and fervent hope for all of us is that we’ll let such children lead us out of the world we find ourselves in and into the world that is meant to be.