As one of my colleagues and I sat looking at photos of our children at the company Christmas party, the national news feed notified us that a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut elementary school, killing 20 children. Most of them younger than ours.
The sheer horror of the event turned my stomach. In my mind’s eye, I saw the interiors of my daughters’ schools, their teachers racing to put safety protocols into action, and children hiding in corners and under desks. They’d had breakfast that morning, gotten on the bus, learned a little math and punctuation, maybe took gym class, and then someone started shooting.
That’s when despair and disbelief fell on me. Darkness had weight and substance. Something clawed at my faith, trying to extract it. An echo of anger and loss said, “A just God doesn’t let stuff like this happen” and “It’s Christmastime. It’s Hanukkah. Seasons of light and hope. There is no hope here.”
In the last couple of weeks, several people I love have experienced struggles and losses – financial burdens, ill children, deaths of parents, cancer battles, uncertainty. I’ve walked many of those paths myself before and might again. I could feel their pain and fear. And I wanted to take it away or fix it. I couldn’t, and I also knew on some level it was happening for a reason. In some cases, I could see new directions evolving in their lives or priorities realigning, even if they couldn’t yet see it themselves. It wasn’t my place to say anything though.
I thought about a mom like me, somewhere in Newtown, drowning in pain, shock, and disbelief. There isn’t anything I can do for her. Saying “there’s a reason for everything” in a circumstance like that feels lame and insensitive.
It feels like we’re “leaving Eden” – our individual sacred places, places of safety and beauty – are getting further away, whether we walk away from them, or are driven out.
We have a choice.
If we look at life as a battle between good and evil, with evil taking every opportunity to disengage us from what is right and good, from our faith and human compassion, then looking at Newtown, Connecticut, it feels like evil is winning. If we start stacking up the injustices, inequality, and pure evil from around the world, evil is wearing a smug expression. “You haven’t the courage to beat me.”
“Leaving Eden” by Brandon Heath has been speaking to me on a new level. Some of it is about the fear of change, and the sorrow that goes with it (“feels like I’m further away with every step I take, but I can’t go back”). Life used to be one way, now it’s another way, and I don’t know if I like it.
But as Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Wipe the smug expression from evil’s face. For every sorrowful event that challenges your faith, steals your hope, and threatens to swallow you in darkness…light a candle of hope. Light two. Light 28 candles. For every injustice, respond with two acts of kindness. Wave to a stranger and see if he waves back. As my friend Julia posted on her Facebook page, “Speak truth, even if your voice wavers.” Refuse to let despair win.
We cannot undo the tragedy in Newtown. And pointing fingers isn’t going to do a damn bit of good – it hasn’t to this point, so why continue? We cannot “fix” the tragedies, but that doesn’t mean we can’t combat the darkness with light and build a new Eden.