Jeannie and Maureen tried to light the 26 candles on the altar, but the lighters wouldn’t work—no spark—and the matches burned out too quickly. We watched, thinking of the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, 20 of them little children. And we cried.
Like communities all over the world, our church found a way to honor the victims of this country’s latest mass killing. But it didn’t work smoothly—we didn’t have the right tools to light the candles honoring the lives that ended that day. Or our tools didn’t work. The candles got lit, but it was a bumpy process.
What a metaphor for our reaction to this horror. We need to do something, make some change in a culture that is clearly broken, but we don’t know what tools to use. And we are afraid that the tools we have are broken. And whatever we do will be bumpy.
The biggest tool we could use would be a national discussion—a civil conversation about just what is broken in our world. We lurch toward solutions: Control guns. No, increase gun ownership so more people can defend themselves. Improve mental health screening, treatment, and support. Reduce the violent messages in the media. Pray.
America long ago lost its innocence—through assassinations, bombings, too many mass murders to even remember. Last Friday we lost 20 innocents as well.
In those innocents we see our children, grandchildren, ourselves. We see hope and promise and deep love. In losing them we lose a certain amount of hope and promise, and the love we feel makes our hearts ache.
This has been especially difficult for me because my grandsons also live in a beautiful, tranquil New England village, and the oldest goes to preschool at the local elementary school. I could see his face in the face of those who were killed. I could see my daughter and son-in-law’s faces in the raw grief of the parents who lost their treasured little ones. I could see myself as the mother and grandmother attempting to offer comfort while my heart was in pieces. What comfort could there possibly be?
We need to do something to stop this from happening again, we all agree. But what to do? Blame one another for our boneheaded beliefs that led us to this tragedy? That seems to be what is happening on social media, with the camps already digging into their positions on gun control and violence, in much the same way we were polarized in the past election.
We will never get anywhere on anything if we don’t start moving out of our bunkers, if we don’t start listening to the other side, considering their point of view, looking toward the possibility of common fears, concerns, and solutions.
There is much in America that unites us—our love of family, concern for the wellbeing of our children, the importance of our communities. Yet we have been defined by all that divides us, and as long as we allow that to happen, we’ll get nowhere. We need to focus on the unity, not the division.
So, let’s talk. And, more important, let’s listen to one another. And instead of calling one another out for a disagreeable position, maybe we can ask why our friends believe the way they do and look for common ground that will lead us beyond this country’s obsession with blaming the other side.
Let’s shut off the television and the radio and stop being swayed by the talking heads whose agenda is stir us up rather than to calm us. Let’s quit venting on social media and begin talking person to person. Let’s turn to our neighbors and see them as the caring people they are, rather than as ill-advised liberals or conservatives. Let’s forget labels and preconceived notions and stop trying to be right, to gain power and control through our positions.