***This a post written a few days after the tragedy at Sandy Hook on December 17, 2012. Today marks five years since this horrific act of violence. We are still struggling with this and what it can mean to a culture that does not seem to be able to come to terms with its relationship with guns and the perceived freedom they represent for some. We are still struggling to make sense of acts of darkness writ large and how to stop them, how to heal from them. For now, our hearts continue to break while we live in hope of change that is within our reach.
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
We were given a box full of darkness on Friday. It is a gift we do not understand, did not want, do not know what to do with. As news trickled in about the horrific shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, we became held captive by a darkness that threatened to overwhelm. At both times wanting to listen, watch, and wanting to run from this horrid scene, we once again felt helpless in the wake of yet another shedding of the blood of the innocents. How to hold such darkness……
It is too soon to look, as Mary Oliver reminds us, for the gift in this. The grief is too large, too raw. It will take, as she says, years to understand what may be at some time in the distant future named as gift. But even in the darkest corners of this black box, the light of hope still refuses to be snuffed out. As we learn of teachers who became superhero protectors, we see a glimmer. As we hear of those who responded first and shielded children’s views from things that would scar their eyes, for a lifetime, we get another glimpse. These are strands to hold onto until our learning evolves.
All through Advent I have lifted the image of darkness and light and the holiness that resides in both. The last few days have made that more murky, less visible even as a metaphor. And yet something inside me believes that even in those who walk in darkness, a darkness that no human heart is prepared to live, some experience of the Holy One still exists. This is, perhaps, the true hope of what can seem like sentimental notions of Christmas, of the in-breaking of God in the every day lives of people.
I have thought much about the young ones who did not come home on Friday. I have found myself looking more intensely at the children who have crossed my path. I have noticed their smiles, their eyes, the ways in which they move with confidence or reticence in this world. I have remembered to note how precious they are. To look, to really look, and to bless them. To remember that Jesus said that heaven belongs to them.
But I have also thought about the young man who visited such violence upon this world. I wondered at the box of darkness that had been handed to him, perhaps from his birth, the one that traveled with him every day as he tried to find his way in an unwelcoming world. It was never gift to him and there must have seemed no one, no older, wiser adult, who could make it so. What is it like to wrestle with such darkness each and every waking moment?
We will, of course, continue to try to make some sense of this tragedy. The years have taught me that there may not be any words or way to fully understand. We will speak of gun control yet again. Hopefully, we will speak of mental illness and how to help those who suffer, their families, their communities. We will look for answers that may or may not be present. We will chase after the haunting ‘why’?
Some day we may see some sharp-edged or luminous gift in all this. But not yet. Not yet.