Saturday, April 4, 2009
Yesterday the dreadful shooting of 14 people happened in my city. I was at my parish 40 miles away when it happened. The incident was near my home and on a route I take almost daily. I avoided that route on my way home last night knowing that there would still be emergency vehicles in that vicinity. But in my mind, I can see that building—a place where immigrants attend classes to become citizens—a place of welcome and information.
I still don’t have access to much of the information. I watched the news last night. Access to the internet newspaper is causing my browser to crash so I can’t get the most up-to-date information at the moment. I don’t know why this man did this. We may never know why this happened; he is one of the 14 deaths. But the violence of the act overwhelms us and makes us shutter.
This story will ring in Binghamton’s psyche for years. Our sleepy Southern Tier city has been visited with what we think is ‘urban violence’. The sense of security that most of us usually live in has been violated and shaken in a way that floods or other natural disasters cannot do. It smacks of Pogo’s declaration that “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
This post could easily be a rant on gun control, or a strident call for vigilance. But it is not. It is merely a comment on the sadness that I feel and the grief that I share with all involved. It is a ‘standing-with’ all of our city family who have lost family and friends.
Recently I heard Walter Bruggeman speak about grief in western culture. He said that we, all too often, do not allow ourselves to truly grieve losses so that we can honestly move on. He showed how the Hebrew prophets would not let the people forget the things that grieved the people and God. Grief is the sadness, the utterly painful experience that we are not in control of the Universe. And if anything has shown us that we are not in control, it has been the mindless killing of people who were studying to become citizens of our country.
It is in grief that some of our better traits can come to the fore. I am remembering the goodness that came about when we flooded a couple of years ago, when neighbor helped neighbor. I know that we here in our city have the ability to reach out to one another at this time and to grieve our loss of innocence together.
That this incident comes the week before Holy Week is not lost on me either. It is so easy to enter Holy Week with a sense of ‘retreat’ or introspection through the events of the Passion of Jesus. But this year, I do not believe I have that luxury. Holy Week may not be my personal journey to the Cross and Empty Tomb. It must be a journey I must take with my neighbors and friends in order to experience and live through the grief of what has happened. It is the only way that the Cross makes any sense whatsoever.
We are vulnerable here in Binghamton. We are not as safe as we have thought. No matter what kind of vigilance we can negotiate for ourselves, we will never be in control of our Universe. Bad things will happen. And the only thing that we can depend upon is the grace of God and the comfort of human kindness. Grief reminds us that we have obligations to one another to support and to be compassionate in the name of the God who loves us more than life.