It’s been a long, long time since Columbine. Thirteen and a half years. And yet, I still remember where I was that morning, when news started to filter into the classrooms at Phoenix Christian High School. These were the days before the 24 hour news cycle, before the ubiquity of the Internet, before everybody had a cell phone that could instantly access the New York Times, the Huffington Post, FOX News, etc. We knew only that something had gone horrifically, terribly wrong in Littleton, Colorado.
But just after 11:00 AM Arizona time on April 20th, 1999, as I sat in my AP Lit class, the announcement came over the school P/A: two gunmen had taken hostages at Columbine High School. There were at least ten students dead, maybe more.
It was stunning.
And yet, as stunned as I was when Columbine occurred, I don’t know that it even remotely compared to my visceral reaction to this morning’s news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. I had just gotten home from taking a colleague from Wake Div to the Charlotte airport. I picked up my phone from the cup holder in my car, unplugging it from the iPod dock. When I did so, the screen illuminated.
“27 Reported Killed in Connecticut Elementary School Shooting; 18 Children”, said the headline from the Huffington Post.
It was as though I had been punched in the stomach. As I read the article in horrified silence, my stomach turned. I stumbled out of my car and dropped to my knees, unable to imagine the evil that would prompt somebody to kill a score of children the age of my nephew.
And that, perhaps, was the striking difference for me between this shooting and Columbine. When Columbine occurred, I acknowledged that, yes, this could’ve happened to me and my friends. We were high school students, and there were definitely students at PCHS that fit the profile of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
But it’s different when the victims are the same age as my nephew, Edward. The thought that he could go to school and never return home, the victim of a troubled young man with motives we do not yet know, was a thought that my mind refused to process. And as gut-wrenching a thought as it is for me – and I’m sure is even more so for my sister – it is reality tonight for the parents of twenty Connecticut children.
What dark horror that this should occur midway through the season of Advent. As we prepare for the third Sunday of the season, the Sunday of Joy, we must acknowledge that there are those who will know no joy this Sunday, for the rest of the season, or for a very long time to come. And what can possibly be said to them?
My semester of CPE at the Durham V.A. hammered into my head that the usual sympathetic platitudes are the last thing that we should say in times of loss. “I’m so sorry for your loss” just isn’t going to cut it, especially when the loss is as mind-numbingly tragic as today. But truly, what can we say?
I don’t have an answer for that one. All I know is that the God I believe in must be just as horrified by this tragedy as anybody else. When we weep, God weeps with us; when we suffer, God suffers with us. When we voice our outrage at those who have obstructed and obfuscated to leave open the door for individuals to commit these kinds of atrocities, God is outraged with us; however, that is a discussion for another day.
All I can think to say are words that may offer small comfort today, but which at least give us something to hold onto, the words of John 1:5 –
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
May God comfort the people of Connecticut in this, the darkest night of their lives.