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).
There is a deep, searing grief over miscarriage, suicide, random acts of violence, and over those who have died after battling long illnesses. And there is a terrible grief in knowing that someone you love and care for has brought about untold pain and suffering to others.
Not only did Lane take the lives of others, he has in some sense destroyed part of the inscape of his own family members and schoolmates. When someone we know and love has opened Pandora's Box to unleash evil and pain in the world, it often feels as if we are co-participants in destruction. A dark shadow is cast over our lives. Their Scarlet Letter can become ours and so multiplies our grief. We fear that we can never really escape the stigma.
When it comes to grief then, what else can we do (in addition to interceding) on behalf of those who find themselves in the midst of it, while also understanding that grief doesn't have a definite timetable?
We can offer the continual and long gift of our presence and service to those who are grieving. It is better to be present than to utter well-intentioned but mal-informed words like, "Isn't it time you get over it?" or "It was just their time to go." And perhaps from our own pain we can comfort others with the comfort we have received (as my friend Ferree has done with her blog, Widow's Christian Place).
We do this all in love, while understanding these words of Wolterstorff, especially in this season of Lent:
So I own my grief. I do not try to put it behind me, to get over it, to forget it. I do not try to dis-own it. If someone asks, 'Who are you, tell me about yourself,' I say—not immediately, but shortly, 'I am one who lost a son.' That loss determines my identity; not all of my identity, but much of it. It belongs within my story. I struggle to go beyond merely owning my grief toward owning it redemptively. But I will not and cannot disown it. I shall remember Eric. Lament is part of life.