Recently I was in Indianapolis teaching at a spiritual writers conference. After one of my classes a woman came up to me and told me she owned an independent bookstore, but she’s also a lawyer and she’s been doing work on gun control laws. She asked me about the issue, but I wasn’t sure how to communicate the depth of my disillusionment.
It’s been over a year since the Parkland, Florida shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and over a year after the massacre in Las Vegas. It’s almost three years after Orlando, almost four years after Charleston, and six years, three months after Sandy Hook. I have felt bewildered and hopeless on this issue because my calling ever since my son came home from Sandy Hook Elementary that day in December has been to walk a very particular road with him through grief and recovery and our family’s spiritual growth. I’ve seen politicians stare in the face of parents who have lost children and hold that gaze of carefully practiced frozen compassion, knowing in their heart what is right, but remaining steadfastly ruled by the brain that tells them how invested they are elsewhere.
I’m not sure what I would say to such a person.
I responded to the woman only briefly. I told her since nothing had changed after all the lives lost I doubted anything would really change now.
Less than two hours later came the news that the Connecticut Supreme Court would allow to move forward the lawsuit brought by a group of Sandy Hook families against a gun manufacturer. I was happily stunned to be proven wrong and so quickly. I sought out the woman and, with tears in my eyes, told her the news. We rejoiced but then she said to me,
“It’s all right. We are here to do this work for you. You lived through it and that’s enough.”
This is my calling, she was saying. I realized when I had responded to her earlier, I was speaking from a place of darkness and not hope. She handed hope back to me, a butterfly with gentle, golden wings.
Then the following week, just six days after the massacre in the Christchurch mosque, New Zealand’s government passed legislation banning a range of semi-automatic rifles and large ammunition magazines. The day after that the state senate in Vermont passed a bill requiring a waiting period to purchase a handgun. Hope began to glow.
I carried this hope to St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. I was invited to speak for their Lenten series on Walking the Talk: Living Our Baptismal Promises. The baptismal promise I spoke to: “Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” I talked about my recent experiences and how we don’t resist alone because sometimes the work is yours and sometimes it belongs to others. And it’s okay.
During the Q&A a mother asked me about how to find joy after tragedy. I told her joy is our birthright and when evil acts take it from us we have to reclaim it—in fact, it is our duty. Christ came into the world so we might have life and have it abundantly. No one gets to change that. We reach for light and joy, setting the example for our children as we do so.
But there was something I didn’t say. She held a baby on her hip. A few toddlers roamed the room. Other parents listened carefully and, honestly, I didn’t want to scare them. The answer I didn’t share answer was this: We must seek light and joy again and we must do it with all our heart and soul because what is the alternative? Darkness.
The following morning on my way home after running an errand I drove past the home of Jennifer Hensel and Jeremy Richman and saw a police car parked near their house. Other cars were parked in front and orange cones blocked entry to their driveway. It reminded me of the hours after the Sandy Hook shooting, when the victims’ families had state troopers standing guard at their homes. Jenn and Jeremy lost their daughter Avielle, age 6, that day. But I thought, Nothing so terrible could happen again. I assumed they were hosting an event, something big in connection with the foundation they had created and named after their daughter. I say this to show the place of denial I immediately went to because, really, who would have an event so early on a Monday morning?
Two hours later I learned Jeremy, a kind man who owned one of the most radiant smiles I’ve ever seen, had taken his own life.
See how quickly hope is crushed? See how quietly devastation enters?
I still believe in reclaiming joy but I am sad, very sad, to know it is not always possible. It’s a sit on the floor with my head in my hands moment. How to move on from here?
I’m thinking of how when you touch a butterfly it leaves a dust on your fingers. I wonder if I have this on my skin now? Will it help me to remember what hope is and how it comes unbidden from the most unexpected places?
A friend posted this comment in my Facebook feed:
I have these people I pull things from…you, I pull maternal strength and eternal hope. I’m so sorry for this news. I’m sorry for this pain. I will remain hopeful for your maternal heart.
She’s telling me this is what I have to remember: I neither seek nor hold such hope alone.
I need this fluttering, fragile hope. We all do. I’m grateful to know that for a time she will hold it for me so I can hold it for my child and he can hold it for others. Somehow, between all of us, this hope will remain alive. Somehow, I know, it will once again take flight.
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