"People, don't you understand,
the child needs a helping hand;
or he'll grow to be
an angry young man some day?
Take a look at you and me
are we too blind to see?
Do we simply turn our heads,
and look the other way?"
I was up most of the night in self-examination and on-my-knees reflection. How? Why? What can I do to make a difference? Every solution to a collective issue has to start with an individual change of heart. I fell asleep -- with more questions than answers.
When I woke this morning, it was a verse from Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto" that just filled my heart. And I knew. I knew that there was something I could do.
This song was written just shy of 50 years ago. I remember how sad it made me feel at the time, but I also remember thinking that it had no relevance for me. That was, until two years later. My dad had passed on suddenly, everyone that I thought might help my mother and I raise my younger siblings disappeared as soon as the memorial service was over. And I couldn't separate my grief from the anger I felt knowing that my life -- as I knew it -- was over. That grief and anger seemed so inextricably linked.
When I "heard" Elvis' song in my heart this morning, I was perplexed. Why was this suddenly playing on an endless mental loop. That was, until I read an article about Nicolas Cruz (the Florida school shooter) that broke me into a million little pieces. Nicolas, and his younger brother, were adopted as infants. In 2005 his dad died suddenly and his mother became a single mom who was devoted to her sons - hoping to compensate for the boys being raised by a single parent, according to the boys' aunt. Last winter, she passed away suddenly.
I can only imagine the devastation of losing both of your parents and having a younger brother to worry about. Who stepped in? Who provided the love, comfort, and support that may have made all the difference in the way this young man processed his grief -- grief that is often conflated with anger. What organizations stepped in to provide a sense of family, community, support? A church, or a hate-group looking for recruits.
Instead of finding the spiritual tools for dismantling his grief, he was given access to a weapons-based culture, and his anger was stoked into devouring flames. So, what does this have to do with me -- with us?
When my dad passed away, my sense of where feelings of grief ended and anger began -- were so confusing. One day I was deeply sad. An hour later I would be on the verge of suicide. The next moment, I was so angry I couldn't function. And in the middle of it all, I was still a child working three jobs in order to help raise my siblings. Emotions swirled and I didn't have the time, or the tools, to sort them out. Instead of taking it out on others, I took it out on myself. Anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, mis-directed social choices -- anything to distract me from the heartbreak of it all.
This post is not a justification for the actions of Nicolas Cruz. What he did is incomprehensible. But this is not about him, it is about us. What can we do -- going forward? How can we stem the tides of bitterness and inhumanity that we see in these domestic acts of terrorism -- not just in school shootings, but family disputes, work-place sexual harassments and assaults, online bullying. There is a wonderful song from Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. It often corrects and alters my course of thought, words, and actions. The first time I heard "You've Got to Be Taught" - as a child - I knew it was true. I believe that loving others is the most natural state of being for a child.
Last week, our high school Sunday School class talked about The Golden Rule. We discussed how there is an version of its primal message in every major (and minor) world religion, practice, and philosophy.
We also talked about what the world would be like if we practiced this rule: "do unto others as you have them do unto you," moment-by-moment every day. If it were the guiding principle of every parent, child, neighbor, community leader, political party, government, global initiative. If it governed every choice and decision we made -- every action and interaction with others.
Then we talked about how we could begin to more effectively practice this Golden Rule in our own lives. We considered how - like "the butterfly effect" - every act of kindness and generosity could shift the mental molecules in the universe so that someone's heart is softened, encouraged, reformed -- and down the road, perhaps a poor choice is averted.
In her primary work on spiritual healing, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy states:
"If we would open their prison doors for the sick,
we must first learn to bind up the broken-hearted.
If we would heal by the Spirit, we must not hide
the talent of spiritual healing under the napkin
of its form, nor bury the morale of Christian Science
in the grave-clothes of its letter.
"The tender word and Christian encouragement of
an invalid, pitiful patience with his fears and
the removal of them, are better than hecatombs
of gushing theories, stereotyped borrowed speeches,
and the doling of arguments, which are but
so many parodies on legitimate Christian Science,
aflame with divine Love."
This passage has meant so much to me today. It has been a rebuke, an encouragement, and a comfort. It has brought hope that there is something I can do - right now - to shift the way someone sees themselves and their sense of belonging in the world.
I can be kind. I can be alert. I can be the person who notices. I can be the person who stopped in my tracks and put another's needs above my own desire to tick off another item from my to do list. I can listen when I feel like talking. I can hold space for someone without an agenda. I can hold someone in their moment of confused grief and anger -- without feeling like I need to fix them. I can comfort without becoming their Comforter. I can silently affirm that God is there, and that we are not alone in our moment of Love, reflecting love.
This has been a wake-up call for me -- again. When I was looking for the above-linked version of Elvis' song, I came across another video that I'd filed for periodic referral. Casting Crowns' "Does Anybody Hear Her?" walks with me wherever I go. I hope it reaches you where you are. Whether you are the lonely or the busy, angry or afraid, the heartbroken or the good Samaritan today -- please let it in.
What Nikolas Cruz did is tragic. What we do with this moment is filled with opportunity. There will be 18 families with broken hearts. Nikolas' younger brother Zachary will be one of them. Will we stop the heartbreak -- wherever it is found, or will we continue to "simply turn our heads and look the other way?"
offered with Love,