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Owning Redemptive Grief after the Ohio School Shooting


Mar 1 2012
Instead of speculating on why T.J. Lane killed three of his classmates, we are better off asking how to grieve the tragedy rightly.

As I delightfully absorbed the uncommon winter morning sunshine on my drive home from a medical appointment, I flipped on the radio—only to hear there'd been another school shooting. This time it was a few hours away in Chardon, Ohio. Instinctually, I turned off the radio. I began praying for the victims and for their families, as well as for shooter T. J. Lane and his family. These guttural groans are my five loaves and two fish offerings when destruction is unleashed into the world.

What prompted 17-year-old Lane to do wield a .22 caliber handgun against his peers, sleepily sitting in Chardon High School's cafeteria Monday morning? Was he fractured by his fractured family and domestic violence? Did he turn into an aggressor because of bullying? If his actions resulted from bullying, why did he confess to randomly selecting his 5 victims, 3 of whom died this week? Why did he have easy access to a firearm? To what extent are his parents/guardians morally culpable? These and other questions surface as we feverishly try to figure out both why a reportedly caring young man like Lane committed such a heinous crime, and how to do our part to prevent future school shootings.

I think of the victims and their families. Three teenage boys—Daniel Parmetor, Russell King Jr. and Demetrius Hewlin—have died. One victim remains hospitalized and another has been released. Though I've lost my share of family members and friends, I've never lost a child and can barely imagine the valley-of-the-shadow-of-death grief these parents are facing.

In his book Lament for a Son, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff writes about his own grief after his 25-year-old son, Eric, died in a mountain climbing accident. Reflecting on the Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins's notion of inscape, Wolterstorff, a Christian, writes:

… a thing had inscape for Hopkins when it had some definite character. In one of his letters Hopkins speaks of the pain he felt when a tree in the garden, full of inscape, was chopped down. Eric put inscape on things: the way he dressed, the way he cooked, the way he shook hands, the way he answered the phone. 'And I wished to die and not see the inscapes of the world destroyed anymore.'

There is a death that occurs within us when we see the inscapes of the world destroyed. These parents in Chardon lament the loss of the inscapes. Death is the starkest reminder that the world isn't the way it's supposed to be—that life wasn't intended to be cut short. As Rob Moll writes in his book The Art of Dying, even though death is all around us, we find that we are "strangers to death." I believe this is so because we all, each one of us, has eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11).

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