Friday will be a day forever embedded in the hearts of parents around America. We’ll look back years from now and remember where we were when we heard the news: twenty children shot dead in a charming Connecticut elementary school. My typical attention deficit self stopped and checked twitter in the midst of a Q editorial meeting and I cried out in knee-jerk reaction—loud and desperate, unable to contain my horror.
Connecticut is a storied land, a place where residents wear the pride of America in everyday life. It also serves as a woodsy oasis for many New Yorkers who seek refuge from the concrete jungle—driving through Newtown as they come and go. It’s a scenic drive through a state that sucks the marrow out of each season. Summers of peach pie and Bantam Lake ski shows. Farm fresh eggs and vistas of vineyards. Deer streaking through woodlands and black bears picking through trash—though they are harmless, like the bats overhead that keep the mosquitos at bay.
The fall beckons with radiant hues of red and gold. Their peak weak is nothing short of majestic—leaves hanging on for dear life in all their glory, then all at once, conceding to the death of winter.
On this day, Connecticut surrendered to winter’s death.
There are no words for this devastation, the tears so loud I can almost hear them ringing out as friends on Facebook and Twitter post their visceral response. I tried with all my might to re-engage our meeting in midtown Manhattan, to no avail. My dam of resolve caved to a pool of tears for the next few hours as I hit refresh on every news tab I could open. Nausea hit, a gut wrenching sickness that only comes from witnessing something so tangible. I felt as if I was standing right there.
With bloodshot eyes and smudged mascara, I scurried to the subway in Times Square, like every anxious mom desperate to lay my eyes and hands on the faces of my children. Walking into our community schoolyard for pick up, I could feel it in the air. Moms and dads putting on a brave face for the afternoon greeting. Eyes darting to and fro above the mid-size crowd with knowing glances, wondering how or when we would discuss this with our children.
We often feel sympathy for loss when we hear of it. But yesterday was something greater. For every parent who willingly entrusts his or her child to any type of elementary school setting, it marked a moment of empathy. A picturing of yourself in their shoes: experiencing the thoughts, emotions and reactions that only the parents could feel. Empathy goes far beyond sympathy, where we understand the suffering of others, and hits us at our core where we intrinsically feel the havoc evil brings to our world.
In our desperation, we seek answers or somewhere to place the blame. Tears compete with rage as we speak out regarding gun control or mental illness or celebrated violence in entertainment and video games. We deliberate how to tell our kids, or whether we should tell them at all. We worry how this trauma robs our children of their innocence. As we weep alongside our president, we grieve our own lost innocence as parents—no longer able to drop our child off at school without question or concern.
We wonder why this keeps happening—why there have been scores of school shootings since Columbine. And yet, each subsequent act makes it no less tragic. We realize we are suffering from the fall in the garden, from utter sin, from our knowledge of good and evil.
As Christians, here we are in the midst of Advent. December, the month we earnestly reflect on the coming of the Christ child, who became flesh as the Savior of this world. And yet we are still longing, yearning for Christ to put the world to rights—to re-make this place into one where the cold-blooded murder of innocents is no longer a reality, where pain and sickness disappear, where all things are made new. Our hearts cry out in unison, out of loss and longing for this new heaven and earth.
For those who renounce faith in God, these feelings still rear their mysterious head in the face of such devastating loss: the loss of children, beauty and the best humanity has to offer. In these moments, our Creator brings to the surface something we intrinsically hold deep within—a longing for something greater that feels just beyond our grasp.
Richard Rohr speaks of this longing in his book, Falling Upward. Of homesickness. That is what this earth is groaning for. We long for a home where wrong is made right. Where sickness takes flight. We long for redemption where death raises to life.
“Wouldn’t it make sense that God would plant in us a desire for what God already wants to give us? I am sure of it.” Rohr writes. “There is an inherent and desirous dissatisfaction that both sends and draws us forward, and it comes from our original and radical union with God. There is a God sized hole in all of us, waiting to be filled.”
In the coming days, we will learn more about each victim. Empathy will flood us high. We will relive their stories until our stomachs can’t bear it. And we will grieve, again and again. We dare not numb ourselves to it—those persistent and welling emotions—such grief can take us to new depths of brokenness and surrender. And in those depths, is the realization that mourning brings comfort, that above all, there is a God waiting to rescue in our darkest hour.
The dysfunction of this world will be tangible, again and again. We cannot escape it—though we desperately try—it will sneak in amidst the safety of our carefully crafted worlds. Because this place is not our home and has not fully been restored. But Advent reminds us God did come and he will come again. Until then we are called to live in the tension of the brokenness that is now, with hope for what is yet to come.
So we faithfully proceed: hoping, praying, comforting, mourning, seeking and obeying God’s will as we prepare our hearts and our world for the coming King. In so doing, we bring light into the darkness and God’s kingdom bursts through. Even now, even here.