Guns, Violence, Grace, Hope, Love, and Loss

I grew up in a neighborhood where gunshots were part of the local backdrop. They were sometimes off in the distance, followed by the whir of sirens. Usually, the ones I could hear came from the woods behind the house. Sometimes, they were so close, the sound was almost deafening.

Once, I woke up in the middle of the night to the loud blast of gunshots. I had never heard them so close before, but I knew exactly what they were. I glimpsed a man walking down the sidewalk in front of my house. The next morning, my dad said that the man looked like he was high, just walking down the street, pointing a hand gun any-which-way and firing. He didn’t hit anyone, and I think all the bullets ended up in the ground, the shells littering our sidewalk.

In another incident, our neighbor’s daughter fired a gun during an argument with the neighbor’s roommate. No one was hurt. The daughter pleaded insanity in court and visited our church a few times when she got out the mental hospital. My sister and brother were both home, right across the street when it happened.

Other things have happened, less violent things, quieter things. My parents’ house has been broken into on a number of occasions, most recently while my youngest sister was upstairs in her bedroom. She just thought my brother was having friends over, and never ventured downstairs. No one was hurt, but valuables were taken, and we mourned the loss of our sense of safety.

I also have experienced tragic death; the kind that you can’t be prepared for; the kind that makes the air thick and heavy with grief. Anyone living in Hastings, Minnesota during the fall of 2012 knows what this means and how it shapes a community. This is an injustice I know.

And then there was yesterday.

While I often relate to being the kind of hopeless wanderer that hasn’t found home yet, the events of yesterday clarified to no uncertain degree that I have a home.

I spent four years as a student at Seattle Pacific University. I am still in touch with my professors and attend lectures there regularly. Just last week, I gave my sister and her boyfriend a tour of campus; first stop: Otto Miller Hall. I had classes in that building; spent hours studying; brought a sweetheart dinner as he worked tirelessly on his senior design project for electrical engineering. I reconciled a broken friendship there and watched Rebecca Black’s “Friday” for the first time there. I complained about the lack of windows in the classrooms (one of many mercies yesterday). It was part of my home, even if it was smelly, warm, stuffy, and gloomy; those fluorescent lights are soul-sucking during three-hour class sessions on Tuesday nights.

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Yesterday, someone came into Otto Miller Hall, my home, and opened fire on my people, people that I have never met, but who are, nonetheless, part of my tribe. They are part of the same story: classes, studying, friendship, romance, reconciliation, complaining, and other shenanigans.

My mama bear instinct did not take long to kick in, even with the shooter in custody. Oh no, you didn’t.  That’s mine. You do not get to destroy that beautiful place or those beautiful people. Still, I feel a sense of confounded rage.

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Our experiment has failed. Like Philip Zimbardo, we seem to be struggling with knowing when to call it quits. The men who formed this country’s laws thought that if its citizens had access to weapons, the government would be kept in check. This has failed on every front. Our government is out of control, and no amount of guns in civilian hands can change that. The military power of the state exponentially exceeds what we could ever get our hands on. In addition, we are killing each other en mass. There have been 34 school-shootings so far (we’re only 23 weeks in) in 2014. This is over half the 63 that have occurred from 2010 through 2013 and just two shy of the total number from the 1990-1999. That is just the school shootings. It doesn’t count the ones in malls, on the street, in people’s homes. Those happen daily. It’s time to pull the plug.

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In all of this, I am so proud to call Seattle Pacific University home. I see these people gathered together. They are beautiful. They are brave. They will keep on living. Today, I am so grateful to be alive, so grateful to the friends who ended our conversations yesterday with, “I love you.” Beautifully, the deranged actions of a psychopath did not win yesterday. We did lose someone, and there is a great deal more the SPU community will grieve in the coming months. I hope Seattle, the state of Washington, and the nation will join us. I have no plan of action. I don’t have over-simplified statistics and explanations or excuses. I will continue to grieve with my tribe. When the grief subsides, I will turn to action, thoughtful, well-informed, non-reactionary, determined, and gracious action.

One thought on “Guns, Violence, Grace, Hope, Love, and Loss

  1. Thanks for this beautiful piece. I am not opposed to more restrictive gun laws in principle. I believe, however, that such laws are not going to do very much to reduce gun violence in this country. Have restrictive drug laws reduced drug use? The problem is that there is too much anger in this country, way too much. The anger creates an insatiable demand for guns that someone will figure out how to meet gun laws or no (see: http://mgpiety.org/2012/12/15/the-logic-of-limiting-violence/ ) What we need is sweeping cultural change that will make the US. a more humane place. We need extensive social welfare programs that will send a strong message that this is a country where people care about one another.

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