There’s no words to describe what happened in Newton, CT today. Really, there are none. Even writing “what a terrible tragedy” doesn’t seem to be enough. The whys and hows and gun-control and whatnot are spreading all over the blogosphere. My facebook is covered with my liberal friends being thoughtful and sometimes unhelpful. And I just…I hurt – and I didn’t even know any of the victims involved. I can’t imagine having to say goodbye to Oliver if this happened to him. I just can’t imagine.
Today was a confirmation class day at my church. We gathered in front of the sanctuary and I…I didn’t know what to do. We were suppose to talk about the 3rd article of the Apostles creed but I didn’t know if we’d get that far. I assembled twelve chairs in a semi, and incomplete, circle, with the free standing altar included. I put our processional cross behind the altar, facing outwards, over the kids. I assembled us in a symbolic fashion. I wondered if we’d get to the communion of saints – if we’d talk about death – if we’d talk about what everlasting life is. And I wanted to at least be in a symbol of eternal life, a symbol of faith, a symbol of what our Christian faith says about death. I was ready to talk about it – but we never did get to it. Instead, it remained unsaid. We gathered together and sat – sat in this semi-circle. And then we talked.
I didn’t know what to say. I brought out the Occasional Service book, thinking a short service might be appropriate it. But that just didn’t seem…complete. So I, instead, opened us up to conversation. Most had heard what happened. We talked about the rumors. I gave everyone the most up-to-date information that I had (which, five hours later, is now wrong), and I opened a space for the kids to share their thoughts and feelings. There was anger, concern, sadness – all normal things. I encouraged the children to not be afraid to talk to people. I encouraged them to ask questions. And I encouraged them to pray and not give up on loving other people.
None of this, really, surprised me – but there was something that did. As the conversation grew, a common theme came out. Every child brought up other shootings – including Columbine. Most were born in 1999 – the year Columbine happened – and are now watching documentaries on Columbine as history lessons in their schools. I was four years older than they are now when Columbine happened. It wasn’t the first school shooting – but it seems to have become the first school shooting that normalized the event. Shootings stopped being seen as an “inner city problem,” but was now a wider issue. It didn’t open the door to new shootings (or maybe it did) but it did standardize how we talk about them.
And these kids – they weren’t even born when Columbine happened.
I told them about my experience of growing up near Columbine and being in high school, nearby, when it happened. But they didn’t want to hear much about my story. What they wanted to tell me, I think, is how these horrific events have been normalized in their lives. They see them. They hear them. They know they happen. And they are living knowing that it’s tragic but strangely normal for mass shootings to happen. They are kids who are use to distant wars, terrible economies, living without the World Trade Center towers, and where everyone gets a cellphone in fifth grade. And mass shootings are part of their DNA. They aren’t desensitized to it. It just…is. It just is how things are to them. And they are living through it, not worried or scared – but just living through it because, well, they don’t know how it could be any different. They don’t dismiss the events and they don’t wish for them to continue to happen. But they aren’t surprised about these shootings because they’re normal. They happen. And these kids live through it, always.
I never like to pray for the past. I don’t believe in doing that because it’s a mere romanticization of an imperfect reality that typically doesn’t want me to be a part of it. I don’t believe that the kids today should be living in a pre-2000 world. But I do pray – really pray – and try to work for a world where these mass shootings aren’t normalized and are not, truly are not, just how everything is. I want them to stop. I pray that they will. And my heart, soul, and prayers, go out to the families of the victims – and all who suffer this night.