I think it took me awhile to process the weight of last week’s tragedy. In some ways, it has felt very far away from me. I’m saddened by the violence and the loss of those little lives that had barely begun. Even the older lives of the teachers—teachers my age, just getting started in their careers. Or the older life of the principal, still relatively young. I’m grateful that this week I was not gripped by fear taking a child back to school. Ruth isn’t old enough for that. In some ways, for me, it feels other worldly, like it happened, in another era and while I could know the heartache in my head, I didn’t feel it in my heart. And to be honest, I didn’t really want to, I didn’t want to feel that hurt, just a glimpse of it feels like too much.
That was last week. This week, I allowed the reality to sink in. I imagined myself in their shoes. I imagined myself as one of those poor parents stuck, standing there at the fire department waiting for my child to appear. Desperate to see her, knowing that at any moment she would surely come hand in hand with one of the policemen. And then she didn’t. And still, after hours, she didn’t. And then finally, the policeman came, but not with my girl. He came, solemn and sad, and told me my little girl was dead. And in that moment my heart broke. Just crushed to pieces. The pain was immense, I wished I was dead myself. I couldn’t stand it. Literally, I couldn’t stand. I just fell into the officer unable to hold my own weight, terrified of life would be like without my baby.
Nothing prepares you for this. Of all the horrible things you fear for your child, nothing prepares you for this. After awhile, they said it would be good to go home, to be with family, to try and get some rest. It sounded like a good idea, until we got there. Clearly, they have never walked in these shoes. They didn’t even think about the reality. Going home used to be good, a place of peace and a place of joy, but now, it’s just a horrible reminder of our daughter, of what we lost. The shoes, the toys, her pictures on the fridge. Her toothbrush. Her unmade bed, all of it—little pieces of her—reminders of moments we always took for granted. We thought we’d have 1000 more. And now we don’t’. We won’t. We can’t cherish those simple moments anymore, because she’s not here. Burnt toast, or spilled milk, or toys that send killer pain from your foot to your neck on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We don’t have those anymore. If we did, we would cherish every bit of it. Burnt toast and spilled milk and all. Because at least then, we would have her. It’s amazing how unimportant moments seem until you no longer have the chance to have them.
That’s what I imagine a Newtown parent might feel. That’s what I felt when I put myself in their shoes. And when I think about it, I wonder where they find the strength to keep moving. Just the thought of it paralyzes me. And that’s just the thought, not the reality. I’m sure there’s much of the heartache I can’t even begin to imagine. And as a pastor, as a counselor, and a consoler, I wonder what I would say if I were their pastor. Sometimes, I know it’s best to say nothing, but instead to listen and be present. Other times, I think , though it might sound cliché---this is why we have Jesus.
“For unto us a child was born.”
“because of this a child is born.”
We need Jesus. God knew that. So God sent God’s son. God saw the sin, our sin, saw our heartache and the devastation and the destruction and wanted to redeem us from all of that. God wanted us to know that we could face life even when confronted with the worst pain, tragedy, abuse, heartbreak, and loss. Life, not death, has the final word.
We need to know that someone can overcome the most wicked, vile things anyone can do. We need to know that hope and truth and goodness and love will prevail. Not just that they are possible, but that they are prevalent, and that God’s presence and power to overcome are greater than the worst that we face in life. Otherwise, I’m not sure any of us could go on.
Think about it. No hope. No justice. No mercy. No community. No one to lean on. No eternal hope for reunion. Just our own disobedience and hurt and selfish desires. The world would be a pretty dark place. But God sent a light. God sent a hope. God sent an alternative. We don’t have to be stuck in the rancid mire of evil. For evil has been overcome. Not that it doesn’t happen, obviously it does, but it doesn’t have the final word. Goodness and righteousness win out.