A Back-to-School Lament

Lament: a religious mourning or sorrow. (Thanks, intro to theology book).

Lament is an out-of-date word.  And likely, an out-of-date practice.  But one I think it would be good for our spirits and souls to recover.  Lament is deeper than being bummed, sad or the lazy blah’s.  I would be inclined to say that something deep in the soul, in a dark space that only the soul knows, which yearns out in protest: something is wrong.  Something is not right, is broken, prevents the soul from settling into peace.

When I worked in Chicago, inevitably every May, as Memorial Day was approaching, those of us staffing emergency rooms and trauma centers would look at each other, quietly nod, and mutually acknowledge, “Here comes GSW season.”  For anyone who doesn’t read medicalese in chart notes, that is shorthand for ‘gun shot wound.’  For as anywhere, nice warm weather brings people out into the streets.  And in a city with a gun violence epidemic, people out and about means weekends full of violence, life-changing injuries, and heartbreaking deaths.  In the line of work I do, I feel even more outraged at deaths that are preventable.  There’s enough suffering and pain in this world: why do we allow such violence to continue in our communities?

A few weeks ago I had a thought—here comes school shooting season. For, in a country that prioritizes guns over lives and enables hate rather than cultivating compassion and dialogue, schools in session will mean it’s back to school shooting season.  I had something of a visceral reaction to a back-to-school ad in bold colors recently. Its pretty primary colors, snazzy outfits, and children celebrating school supplies in ways I’ve never seen in real life seemed to me a stark contrast to the reality of the world out there.  Which is really the world right here.  And don’t get me started on armored backpacks.  Really?  The answer is not in armor-ing school-sized kiddos and munchkins with bullet-proof backpacks.  A quick google reveals manufacturers already promoting a variety of styles and options though none seem affordable to me.

When will we stop sacrificing our children, teachers, service workers and neighbors to the idol of gun rights?

When will we stand up and say no more? No more deaths to gun violence.  Not here.  Not like this.

I’m done with thoughts and prayers.  Get back to me when we have meaningful conversations, action and legislation that will make a difference.  I started high school about the time that active shooter and lockdown drills became a common practice.  Just the thought of it was terrifying.  As a fresh high schooler, I remember processing the Columbine shooting from a distance.  I’m tired of us failing our kids, and really, everyone.   20 years down the road and it feels that the problem has only gotten worse and every year brings even more shootings.  Numbers don’t seem to be as easily trackable back to Columbine in 1999.  Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at the end of 2012, there have been over 2,000 mass shootings in which four or more people were shot.  That’s not even 7 full years!  2,000 shootings. And how shall we account for all other shootings?

So here’s my honest back-to school blessing:

God, bless our kids and keep them safe.  Including from us and our inability to keep them safe, especially from gun violence.

God, bless the teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, counselors, coaches, security, and others who work so hard day in and day out to form the future of our world.  They do such important work, don’t get thanked or paid enough, and may in fact lose their lives doing so.

And God, hold us to account  for all the blood shed and lives taken by guns and our apathy.  Teach us again (and harshly if you have to) that life is sacred, hatred kills, and  we are called to love and care for all of our neighbors.

 

Blognotes:

The ‘intro to theology’ book mentioned was Donald McKim’s Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2009.

Basic facts on mass shootings and stats from the article found here:

https://www.vox.com/2019/4/19/18412650/columbine-mass-shootings-gun-violence-map-charts-data

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On Griefland

“The calendar is full of landmines.”  This is a real sentence I said in a conversation recently.  And the thing is—it’s true.  When living as a person with grief, dates on the calendar are always lurking, threatening to crash into shore with a variety of emotions.

They can be the big days: Easter, Independence Day(s), Thanksgiving, Christmas and so on.  Simultaneously, you try to balance struggling to be in the present, remembering the last time you spent that holiday with your loved one, and swimming in a strong rip current of mixed emotions.

And it’s not just the big dates that the people around you will recognize: birthdays, anniversaries, events you routinely did each year with your loved one.  Not to mention their birthday, date of death and other significant days.

If the calendar doesn’t get you on the regular turn on the radio.  Or flip through old movies and cd’s (yes, there are both in my house).  Dig in your drawers and closets to find some t-shirts and sweatshirts you saved to help hold onto the memories even if you’re still not sure what to do with them.

Welcome to Griefland.**  It’s not a bad place per se.  Or even all sad.  There are even funny moments!  Somedays you are aware that these in-between moments and the occaisional dreams are the only ones you have left with your loved one.

One more note:  If you find yourself in Griefland, you may be there for the rest of your life.  Sometimes I think about grief as the shadow side of love, the risk, the hazard—the murky substance that seeps in when someone dies.

So cultivate the stories, keep the t-shirts crumpled at the bottom of the closet, and buy your loved one’s favorite candy as needed.  Put up some photos.  Griefland may just be the sacred space where we can sit with our already dead for a brief moment and almost see them there.

Note of gratitude: this post is dedicated to the people near and far who dare to live fully with their grief on their sleeves by writing, talking, sharing, and preaching about it knowing that it is a part of this thing called life.

**I first read and appreciated the term in some reflections by friend and colleague the Rev. Ashley-Anne Masters.  We are mutually unsure where the term originated.  If I narrow down a specific source I will update this.

On Geese & Immigration

I am haunted by geese.  At least the geese that fly over my apartment.  I’ve heard geese before.  They come often; flying overhead either because I live so close to a body of water or because their path happens to bring them above my own. 

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Geese (and many kinds of birds and insects) migrate when the seasons change and life is no longer sustainable.  The conditions of the land, water, access to food—no longer looks good, nor does it supply their needs, so it’s in their nature to move on.  Makes sense.  And long before people tied themselves plots of lands and stationary shelters, they too followed food sources and favorable weather.  

The geese that haunt me remind me of people everywhere who flee: dictators, drought, corruption, inflation and stagnant economies, gangs, drug traffickers, oppressive governments with ample stocks of military weapons.  Of course, they are fleeing.  They’ve watched the life drain out of their homelands.  Drop by drop.  Leaf by falling dead leaf off of what used to be a dense jungle forest.  Their lives are at risk and they go, even if they don’t want to go.

They don’t want to be walking with their children: babies who should be having first birthday parties, elementary school kids now absent from classrooms where they were learning arithmetic a few weeks ago, and teenagers who should be dreaming of leaving their mark on the world rather than how to stay alive for one. More. Day. 

Life for them is that bad.

It’s no wonder they run.  A spouse shot in the street.  A young man peacefully demonstrating loses an eye to a tear gas canister.  One man paralyzed and living in a wheelchair because he walked along the wrong street on his way to work and was shot by the police.  Why, we should be asking, would they stay?  Why would they stay when violence wins and foreign political and economical powers uphold a dictator?  

These are not terrorists, they are terrified.

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A year ago to the date (minus a delay for edits and posting), I stood on roadsides in Honduras.  I stood with people who—after watching their country fall apart and an election fraudulently stolen—could not stay silent any longer.  Even if it meant physical harm, intimidation, or jail time.  Did it make a difference?  I don’t know.  He was still inaugurated.  Were our new friends kept safe?  At least for a few more days.

This is the reality of Honduras but it’s not all that unique.  Other countries and cultures are struggling adding only more numbers and more feet anxiously fleeing looking for life.  When they flee, they do so because there is a chance that the unknown road north might be safer and more livable than the terrifying reality of home.

And so my heart breaks.  

Every time I hear the geese go by I wonder who has left home, with a bag slung over their shoulder and a child in hand.  Their journeys haunt me too.

Will we listen?  Will we welcome?    

 

P.S. thanks to the rev. abby mohaupt for her input and wisdom on this piece.

P.P.S. thanks to Matt Nienhuis for lending his images of geese.  You can follow some of his brilliant photography on Instagram @fstoptories.