We could talk of a culture saturated in violence. Or about the effects of isolation or untreated mental illness that so often leads to acts like these.
We could speak of innocent life stolen by evil and ask how God can allow such things to happen.
We could cry or bury ourselves under covers or numb out at yet another expression of a world gone horribly awry.
We could think about those forever altered by the horror of a masked gunman opening fire among holiday shoppers in the food court at a mall in Clackamas, Oregon, about 30 minutes from my house.
Or about the children (growing up in my hometown) now facing life without their father — a man called an encourager to all he met, a coach of youth sports teams, a man with a continually hopeful outlook — or the hospice nurse, wife and mother, who loved being outdoors and avoided the mall.
Or we could say prayers for the teenage girl in serious condition at the hospital, recovering from multiple gunshot wounds and a collapsed lung — a girl who earlier this year survived a major car accident with other members of her family.
We could wonder at the young woman trying to fall asleep at night with visions of the semiautomatic weapon that had been pointed straight at her. She might relive over and over again how her feet stayed stuck in place when she thought she’d be one to run, and how the shooter’s bullets passed right by her as she huddled behind a small stool at the cupcake kiosk where she’d only begun work a week ago.
We could wonder about the children and teenagers who saw what they saw, those parents huddling in dressing rooms with their babies, those store employees who helped customers run to safety, and we can remember that in every tragedy, heroes do the work of everyday people who find themselves in the jaws of fear and horror and do a small thing, a huge thing, the thing before them to do.
We could remember those for whom Christmas will never be the same. The families of the dead and the physically and emotionally wounded, the family of the young gunman, who shot and killed himself after the horror he created.
Early Tuesday evening, I read about the shooting on Facebook and thought instantly of my family who shop at that mall, and my voice caught when I left the message for my dad, and I could hardly spit my words out, “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay.” My papa called, and they were home.
I listened to the radio out of earshot of the kids, and Michael and I watched the 11 o’clock news.
I wondered aloud at the miracle that more were not killed in this mall filled with 10,000, but then it’s not a miracle for the families who lost the one they loved, I said.
Tuesday night, Michael and I talked about tragedies that happen everyday. Those killed and maimed by war, those dying slow deaths from disease and starvation. He mentioned a recent storm in the Philippines that killed more than Hurricane Sandy, and said, “I bet most people don’t even know about it.”
And I had to admit, sadly, that I didn’t.
I thought about all this and cried and couldn’t stop crying because it all felt so hopeless, though I know in the end, at the very end, it’s not at all.
But this moment in time felt different because I’ve walked on that ordinary ground, onthose shiny tiles under Christmas garlands and lights.
Clackamas Town Center is the place where I first ice skated with Kerryn, the mall where I bought my prom jewelry and purple Dyeable shoes, the mall where I sung “The Greatest Love of All.” This was the mall of my childhood and the place where I wrote articles for the Oregonian about the lady who worked at the wig kiosk and the fountain where thousands of coins were collected each year for charity.
This is the mall where I prayed for a clerk in Claire’s jewelry store when she told me how ugly she felt with the burn across her face, how she was completely unlovable. I put my arm around her and told her she was treasured, that she was beautiful, that God loved her and that she was created for a purpose.
Tuesday night, I struggled with the sorrow and even a surprising sense of loneliness as I felt the chasm between Michael and me for the different ways we feel what we feel in times like these. I go to the depths and allow myself to sit with the questions. I need to do that sometimes. And Michael hears me, and then proclaims light is greater than darkness.
He’s right, and yet it doesn’t stop the feeling.
In the darkness of my girls’ room I feel the ache, the desire to hold them close to me and close the world out. I pray for protection, health and life not only for them, but for the lonely and the gripped by fear, for those with whom they share this world.
I prayed as I touched their perfect silky hair, their small arms.
I cried and couldn’t stop crying for this world, and I don’t know how I would walk through this life if I believed this was all there is.
I woke Wednesday morning, and the bags under my eyes still filled with the tears.
So I’m sitting in the not understanding and the closeness and faraway of it at once. I don’t have any answers. Only a knowing of the sorrow of these earthly bodies that hold pain and trauma, fear and joy and celebration. These precious frail lives.
Each one — somebody’s baby.
And as I send my babies into the world, l am trying to remember the light that is greater than dark.