The Part I Know


We’re all grieving. I hope we’re all grieving. This isn’t “sad.” This is a tragedy, and an avoidable tragedy, not a tornado or a hurricane.

I’m talkjing about the slaying of nineteen children and two teachers in Robb Elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

I just learned that police and an armed security guard were on the scene, outside the building, where parents begged them to go in and they did not. I know next to nothing about being a police officer.

Today, the debate rages over gun laws in the United States, and it should. We have not solved what happened at Columbine High School or Sandy Hook Elementary School. We haven’t made our schools more safe for our children. If I say more, someone will quickly tell me I know next to nothing about firearms. That is true.

Here is what I know, and why I am choosing to add my voice to this clamor, when my first impulse was to grieve quietly, pray for the families, and vote like our children’s lives depend on it.

I know something of what those parents are waking up to.

Let me be clear: I do not know how they feel. But I do know how this feels.

You can dismiss my political knowledge and any critique I might have about our laws. That is your right. I, too, believe in freedom, though I think some have lost track of what the word means and how it must function in our society.

I shared this reflection with my community: Today, this morning, after I dropped off our just-home-from-college 18-year-old at the bakery where she had her summer job last year and is back this year, on my drive home I was thinking and praying. I was thinking about those parents who have to wake up this morning and realize their child is really dead, that it wasn’t a horrible dream at all, and then wish they hadn’t woken up. Those first few—or many—days of waking up and realizing, as if it’s happening over and over, the reality that this baby is gone, just gone, and yet you have to keep going in the world.

And I’m praying for those parents, but even as I’m praying I’m thinking “nothing, no prayer, absolutely nothing makes this better.” And I believe in prayer.

This is a different place than anger. I feel that, too.

I have woken up like this. I have relearned that my child is dead. I have wished I could go back to sleep and not wake up. I have felt this impotent, bottomless rage. I have heard all the spiritual nothings, the mouthed soothings of those who would go back home to their live children and thank God they weren’t me.

In fact, I have spent years writing a book about my experience of grief, of surviving my child’s death, and, God willing, I’ll soon be able to offer that to the parents like me. And I pray that it helps, because it is all I can offer and cost me more than you can imagine–unless you know, personally.

So I will tell you that these abstract debates, these grotesque mockeries of the bereaved parents’ life-shattering sorrow, are an abomination.

After Isaac died–and he died inexplicably, even with world-class healthcare, so I do not know the horror when your baby is murdered–my world went dark. I could not experience God–with whom I’d hung out daily, hourly–for three years. It took me three years of screaming and thrashing and crying to find my way back to any form of faith again. I tell you three years now because I came through it, but at the time I didn’t know it would be three years. I assumed I would feel this way for the rest of my life.

Losing a child is an amputation, not a wound. “Healing” doesn’t mean things go back to normal; your arm doesn’t grow back. You learn to function without it. Your world is never the same. But unlike for an amputee, people can’t see what is missing. They move on. They expect you to move on. Sometimes they say things that amount to, “Just use both hands. It’s a lot easier that way.”

So this morning I’m praying for all these parents who have lost their babies, their child they birthed and fed and read to and loved. All the days-that-should-have-been torn from them. They’ll wake up tomorrow and for a moment they won’t know…and then their child will be murdered all over again, because our minds and emotions can’t make this shift and we keep getting cold-cocked with the pain and horror. Again. And again.

And again.

This, I know about. This, I survived, by the grace of God and the rawness of my screaming throat, by faithful friends, a very few who could stay close while I thrashed and cursed and lashed out, a wife who loved and loves me and who survived with me.

Job’s friends did not help. But they were all around me. They had many spiritual cliches to share. Some of them had good intentions. Some of them just couldn’t bear my anguish and needed me to tell them it was okay.

It was not okay.

So as a survivor of my baby’s death, as a vilomah, I cry out to God for these parents today, knowing that my prayers are futile to comfort:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2:18

Those babies, too, were murdered.

I’m praying for these parents to survive, to find their way through their loss–the smiles and birthdays and weddings and grandchildren stolen–their severed limbs, their months or years in the desert. Remember, they will be burying their babies this week or next…what is left of them, what can be found of them. Yes, I know that is horrific. Do you not understand that is my point?

Let this be real for you. Don’t distance yourself. Don’t numb yourself. Don’t get caught up in meaningless, intractable debates with those who cannot–or will not–grasp what the death of a child means.

Yes, pray for these grieving families.

Then fight like hell to keep this from happening again.

5 thoughts on “The Part I Know

  1. Jim Allyn

    I think Father Phillip Berrigan hit the nail on the head decades ago, when he said:

    “According to a University of South Carolina study, violence in America rose 42 percent during the Vietnam War. This is hardly surprising. Our leaders are lawless, so why not we? If the government threatens other countries with the bomb, why not threaten one another with handguns? If our leaders are raping the planet, why not our neighbors? Our leaders create a climate of fear and violence. Why do they appear shocked when Americans kill, rob, and maim one another?” – Philip Berrigan

    Passing all the gun control laws in the world isn’t going to make a difference until we make a difference in people’s hearts. At the moment, however, the people’s hearts are influenced by a government that spends a trillion dollars a year on killing poor brown people in faraway lands. And why do we do that? Because people who have far too much already profit from killing those poor brown people. As long as we allow – encourage, even – wealthy people and their corporations to profit from war, nothing will change.

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