It’ll be five months Thursday.
Five months since I sat in the library of Aurora’s Gateway High School, waiting with a friend for news of her son. Counselors offered to talk. Pastors offered to pray. Volunteers brought food and urged us to eat. But we could not talk or pray or eat. We watched the clock and waited. It would be an agonizing eight hours before they confirmed our worst fears:
Her son had been shot in Aurora’s Century 16 Theater. He didn’t make it.
Five months later, we still grieve. Today I watched the news and my stomach clenched at my memory of that day spent in the library, the sound of the loved ones’ wails and the feel of their hands in mine.
Here we are again.
Have mercy. It’s all too much.
As I write this, my little ones sit in an elementary school three miles away. Two in kindergarten, the other first grade. This morning, I made sack lunches, served up breakfast, brushed teeth, combed hair and put in pink-ribbonned pigtails. At 9 am, I dropped them off in front of the school with an “I love you!” and presumption of safety. It never occurred to me that the day could be anything but ordinary: the Pledge of Allegiance. Reading. Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Recess.
Hundreds of parents in Newtown, Connecticut went through a similar routine this morning. They dropped off little ones with a kiss and presumption of safety. They couldn’t have been more mistaken.
I don’t have any details other than what I’ve read and heard, just like you. But, after my day sitting in an Aurora school library, I can imagine …
The innocent eyes of those who watched it happen, those who saw far two much and can’t erase the images. They survived, but lost friends. Lived, but died. The cost is too great, and already it haunts them.
The worried faces of mamas and daddies, who haven’t yet received word. They wait, hoping the lack of answers doesn’t mean what they fear. They call hospitals, text friends and family, search neighbors’ faces and question witnesses for a reason to hope. But no one can say. No one can tell them if their babies will ever come home.
The weary first responders, who deal with trauma and injustice every day. But today they realized textbooks and trainings cannot prepare the human heart for the site of a schoolroom filled with children. So much life extinguished at once, too many dreams snuffed. They will do their job, solemn and brave, but will nearly break in two in the doing of it.
The Police Chief, Commander-in-chief, and everyone in between, who are tasked with leading us through the inconceivable. And yet, behind titles and political affiliations, they are fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. Position doesn’t immunize them to heartbreak, and yet they must push past it to lead us. How? How will they find words for a world desperate with grief?
Such brave souls, all these who today walk through darkness.
As for those of us who watch from a distance, what are we to do when the horrific happens?
We will certainly pull loved ones close, and whisper words we mustn’t fail to say: I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. This brings us comfort, but does nothing for those whose arms are empty.
We can watch the news, speculate and judge, blame and sensationalize. But emotion unchecked is what got us into this in the first place. Now is not the time for speculation, sensationalism or blame. Perhaps never.
We can discuss procedures to modify and laws to be changed, even make phone calls to politicians. Those conversations must come, sooner than later. But not today.
Today there is little you and I can do. Aurora taught me this. Any offering seems small, trite.
But I can cry like a mother who feels the loss as if it were her own child. “Mourn with those who mourn,” the Bible says (Romans 12:15). Yes, exactly. When the horrific happens, your tears and mine are our most sacred offering.
A few minutes ago, I picked up little ones from their elementary school, alive and well. As we headed home, I explained, in simple terms, that several boys and girls were hurt today.
“Will you pray with me?” I asked them.
They readily agreed, praying the simple prayers of 5 and 6 year olds, asking the God they trust to heal boys and girls, mamas and daddies, and make sad hearts happy once again. Yes, dear God, make it so. Then, when we finished, the car grew quiet. Through tears of her own, my sweet girl whispered:
“That broke my heart.”
Yes, Sweetheart. Me, too.