A year and a half ago, I wrote the post that I’m going to recycle here. I wrote it on my personal blog after the shooting in an Arizona supermarket parking lot that killed six people and severely injured Representative Giffords. When I wrote it, I cried. When I went back to dig it up for today, I cried again.
I never thought I’d revisit this post. I certainly never thought I’d publish it here at the Exchange. But when I woke up this morning, and in the process of idly checking my Twitter feed, I saw news about the shootings in Colorado. I gathered enough information to start praying, but knew better than to go looking for more details.
Ken, however, read the CNN article about it, and kept passing along the heartbreaking specifics to me, as a way of processing the horror and senselessness of it. I know that he kept a lot of it back, knowing how news like this becomes lodged in my heart and mind, but enough came through to remind me of the piece I wrote over a year ago.
The names of the dead and wounded are different. The circumstances surrounding the event are different. But I know that if I went back and swapped out “Arizona” for “Colorado” and “supermarket” for “movie theater”, I’d write this same thing today.
You go around in your normal life trying your best to serve God by serving your family.
You try to remember that when something dies, it decomposes and makes room for something else to move in. You try to remember that the root word for “mortification” is “mort” which of course means “death”. You try to remember that when you die to yourself, you make more room for God to move in.
But remembering all this is so very, very hard. Even with all the scales tipped in our favor, it is so hard to remember, and so hard to put into practice. And for me, at least, throwing the full force of my will into this work narrows my focus to my family.
I sometimes go for days and days and days without leaving the house, so focused am I on doing what I’ve been asked to do to the best of my ability.
Something like what happened in Arizona on Saturday. Something that happened immediately to some 20 people and soon sent sonic waves all the way to my small world in Connecticut. The news at first focused on Representative Giffords, and reports seemed to be giddily holding their breath until they could call her death, like calling an election or the Superbowl results. So much confusion and yelling from voices that didn’t need to be yelling just then.
I waited until the next morning to read about it. In between getting children ready for Mass, I read that Rep. Giffords was, amazingly, still alive. But then I started reading about the other victims.
I cried while telling her about that day. I cried remembering being in a classroom of seventh graders when it happened, and crying so hard on the phone with my Dad during a break between classes that I couldn’t talk. I remember being so scared for my cousin, who lived in an apartment that was in view of the Pentagon. Then, as a childless woman, I was focused just on my own people. Now, looking back at that day as a mother of five, my heart breaks again that my students weren’t with their parents when events unfolded.
It seemed an unbearable collision of life that a child who entered the world on a day of such horror should have left it in the same way.
The next victim I read about was the one that broke me. 76 year old Dorwin Stoddard, fatally shot in the head while shielding his wife. I tried telling Ken about him, but I couldn’t talk. He was all I could think about during Mass, and I begged for the repose of his soul while at the same time I was fighting against despair. A grocery store on a Saturday morning. Men, women, and children who I now remembered were my family only after they were dead.
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. And what you think and do affects your soul as much as the food you eat affects your body. So I tried and tried to fight off that despair, that panic, that horror.
But I kept thinking of my 76 year old brother, who was shot in his head while protecting his beloved.
Lotus asked about Arizona later that day. We had prayed for the victims during the Prayers of the Faithful, and she hadn’t understood the reference to “the victims of the tragedy in Arizona”. I briefly outlined the events, and then told her everything a person of faith is supposed to say: free will means that we can choose to do evil, we needed to pray for the souls of the dead and for the families of those involved, and that ultimately, God was in charge of things and God is Good.
And the words tasted like sand in my mouth. A dead girl, only a year older than my Lotus. A dead man, recently engaged. And Dorwin Stoddard, murdered while protecting his wife. Where was our Good God then? This wasn’t a question of disbelief, but one of despair.
Life in our house, as in your house, went on, and later that night we watched “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Fantastic and odd Gene Wilder playing fantastic and odd Willy Wonka.
At this point, I’m glad we’re watching the movie in a darkened room so no one can see me starting to tear up. In the horror and the pain and the panic of those final moments in an Arizona grocery store, a 76 year old man chose to spend them shielding his beloved wife. In the spray of bullets, Dorwin Stoddard chose to reflect God’s self-sacrificial love and saved his wife from death and me from despair. There was God in that grocery store, moving in Dorwin- shining forth in a weary world.
Free will means that we can also choose to do good. And the more we make space for God to work in us, the more good we are able to choose.
You go around in your normal life trying your best to serve God by serving your family. You try to remember that when something dies, it decomposes and makes room for something else to move in. You try to remember that the root word for “mortification” is “mort” which of course means “death”. You try to remember that when you die to yourself, you make more room for God to move in.
You don’t have a soul. You are a soul.