Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

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From Trauma to Forgiveness

About a week ago I commented on the Treyvon Martin/George Zimmerman case and tried to look at it from both sides. I also brought up the fact that I lived in a neighborhood where I was often afraid to walk down the street alone. I was “jumped” in front of my own house once for a lousy $2 as three teens tailed me from the grocery store.

The truth is that I still have nightmares about it.

What’s more is that I remember when I walked to middle school and back each day, I had to travel through a particularly bad neighborhood. There were a few “crews” as we called “gangs” back then in the 80s. Drugs, violence, you name it were all hallmarks of the walk home. As I left my Catholic middle school I often thought “Maybe today is the day I get jumped?” Or worse. I got used to walking fast and it was all uphill.

Some of the gang members knew me from when I went to public school from Kindergarten through 6th grade. I loved that school. When Middle School arrived it seemed as if everything had changed. The middle school in the neighborhood had a bad reputation.

And that scared the hell out of my parents. So they sent me to the parish grammar school instead for 7th and 8th grade. And that pretty much made me a target walking home in a shirt and a tie each day. Might as well have had a sign that said “Come and beat the heck out of me for whatever loose change I might be carrying.” What was worse was that I was at best a “tolerated guest” at the Catholic School and didn’t even have allies to walk home with most of the time.

The anxiety would build until I arrived home and got behind that door–and even then I worried at night about someone breaking into the house.

I was taught that fear, taught to be afraid of my neighborhood. And there is good and bad in that. Because let’s face it there are good and bad people of all races. Even in good neighborhoods it is good to notice your surroundings and be aware.

But we can also overdo it.

I remember the “two dollar” incident as if it were yesterday. One guy grabbed me and threw me against a car. The laughing started then. Then someone grabbed my hand and another went through my pockets. I got pushed around and then they ran when they got the money away from my clenched fist. It sounds simple–but the truth is that it was all rather frightening.

I have been wondering why I still have the nightmare and why I had one when this story that has captivated the country hit center stage. What are all of these memories now stirring in me about? Why have they rushed to the surface now some 30 years later? I began to feel silly about holding on to this, but I also knew that there must have been something significant about this for me to keep having these subconscious thoughts. I even went to facebook and tried to see if I could find one of the people who was part of the incident. And when I did I became even more worried.

So I went to Christ the King Chapel, our campus church at Canisius and simply asked God what all this was about. And when I did I re-lived that fearful moment in Examen. I saw my own fear. I heard the laughing again. I looked into the eyes of the one who was known to me, who set me up for the others. And then I imagined that it was much like that night in the garden when Jesus was betrayed by one he knew well. And I saw Jesus standing there with me shaking his head at the absurdity of it all.

And as they scattered, I too, was left alone. I found myself pushing Jesus away and embracing my own hatred. While I wasn’t hurt much physically, the emotional scars were deep and I was just so, so afraid it would happen again.

Something inside me in the darkness of that chapel finally saw Jesus on that cross and I said the words:

“Father, forgive them.”

And I realized that I was safe now, perhaps safer than I have ever felt. Forgiveness is truly freeing and I don’t think I ever truly forgave those three from that moment.

The tears came and then I heard the chapel door open. It was one of our public safety officers who was checking on the building and locking the doors for the night. She was a woman and for some reason she made me feel somewhat safer because she was. Some students were meeting me in the undercroft, the church basement soon and I let her know that. We introduced ourselves and as she left I found my students entering for our prayer service.

I never really finished that prayer, much like I never really finished freeing myself from that memory. This week I served some folks who looked very much like those three who took advantage of my weakness those 30 years age. I was able to look them in the eyes and see their pain, their dignity, their poverty and yes, their fear disguised as bravado.

I was not afraid of them. I’m sure that many of them were not exactly stellar citizens. I’m sure it was easier for them to band together with others than to stand apart and face the fear of walking their dangerous neighborhood alone, where the fear of being killed is actually a real one. And so I gave them each something to eat and talked with them and hoped that just maybe for a moment I could be someone that they need not fear and that had no need to fear them.

And I realized then how strong God made me back then, how brave I was to simply walk home alone each day. And how God continues to make me strong today for those who are too weak to walk alone. For those who have no voice. For those who don’t have enough to eat. For those who live fearful lives.

Eventually I resumed my prayer days later and realized that I had been sitting by the foot of the cross in that chapel.

Staying by our cross and facing it, even the ones from old neighborhoods, or playgrounds, or bedrooms, or schoolhouses is indeed very hard for each one of us. But Christ calls us to stay with Him at His cross, to face our fear and to go the extra yard of sitting with Him in His pain just as God always stays with us in ours.

That’s how we overcome those wounded moments.

And each time we do, God raises us to new life.

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Can One Experience Change Us Forever?

Heather Mallick has a haunting article in the Toronto Star today that several colleagues have forwarded to me today. The mother of one of the children in the Newtown shooting insisted on an open casket. She hopes it will change people’s attitudes about gun violence.

Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.

Seeing for one’s self indeed can change us for life. For myself two incidents in my life changed me for the better:

The first is growing up in Yonkers in a working class neighborhood. When I was about 12 or 13, a young man was shot in my neighborhood, three houses away from my own apartment building. Ricky, who I didn’t know personally, had broken up a fight between two kids who were arguing over a baseball bat. The kids went home and told their father what happened and the father came out with a shotgun and killed him. It was horrible. From my window I watched them lift the stretcher into the ambulance. Ricky, still alive, barely, lay there mouth agape. I looked at my dad and said, “What the hell? This guy is going to die over a baseball bat. And why does this guy have a shotgun in his house anyway?” The guy beat the rap. Got off on self defense and received community service. I made a decision at that point of my life that I wanted to make sure that nobody would ever be robbed of justice again, if I could help it.

And sometimes, I feel…well…powerless to help those caught in injustice.

The second was my experience of Nicaragua. I made four trips to Managua, to work at an orphanage. We also went to a place called Chureca, the garbage dump. People lived in Chureca and I have never imagined such poverty. Cardboard used for walls with the word “Basura” on it. Animals roaming free, dogs, chickens, pigs in people’s houses. Many died of malnutrition and stomach cancer was also prevalent. I thought to myself, “I’m trying to live in solidarity here, but nobody should ever have to live this way.” It robbed everyone of their dignity, and they grasped on to whatever they could to retain it. We brought supplies, baby formula, foodstuffs and more…but it would never be enough.

My journal entry as I travelled home, said a simple phrase,

“Poverty shouldn’t exist. And in a country as rich as ours, we don’t come close to knowing real poverty.”

I took pictures that day in Nicaragua, like the one above and the picture of Ricky burned in my mind continues to remind me of the senselessness of needless death and destruction.

St Ignatius reminds us that we need to revisit “the pictures” of our previous day and then let those moments lead us into deeper contemplation over the consolations and desolations of our lives. Then, and perhaps only then, we can make a firm amendment to change for the better.

Today we pray to remember the pictures that change our lives. May those who see the violence have their heart changed, especially as we remember these children, Noah in particular. We remember those who die needlessly in war, war that our country has sanctioned and continues to destroy peace. And we pray for the poor, who suffer needlessly because of greed. May God teach us to solve the problems of peace and justice because we have seen injustice. May that experience bring us to work harder for the dignity of humankind. Amen.

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God Whispers It’s OK

Fran over at Albany’s There Will be Bread blog has a really inspiring post today and reminds us that God has seen us through countless tragedies and asks us if can trust that?

This is something that I and friends in the past few days have struggled with. Straddling the line between forgiveness, horror and trying to move past this without falling into indifference and reminding ourselves that God redeems all suffering. Fran takes the experience of St Joseph and comes up with a great reminder for all of us.

If you were here last week, you heard me refer to the artwork of Brother Mickey McGrath, and I’m about to do that again. Yesterday, when researching images for this post, I came nadcross a video in which Brother Mickey was talking about Joseph and this dream, while showing a painting of Joseph asleep. In the image, the sleeping Joseph’s head is angled down in rest. Above his right ear we see an angel whispering, “It’s OK.”

In those two words we hear what God is trying to tell us – “it’s OK.”

Right now it is very easy to feel like nothing is OK. We have had significant tragedy here locally and we have seen tragedy in Newtown. The “are-we-there-yet?” we were feeling, might be replaced with “can-we-leave-now?” In fact, mentally, maybe we have left, we are just checked out.

Yet – God is with us! God is with us! God is with us!

The reality is that there is always tragedy somewhere, everywhere, even if not in our line of sight. This does not reduce what has happened here, or in Newtown. In places all over the globe, in our own homes and hearts, countless tragedies take place every day, in ways great and small.

Yet – hard as it may be to believe – God is with us. I mean – God is with us! God is with us! We may not always be aware of that angel hovering over our ear whispering, “it’s OK. But that is what is happening, all the time, because God is with us. What will we do with this when we “wake up?”

God asks us to live and believe the great “it’s-OK-ness” that God has promised to us, that God gives to us, this God-with–us, found in Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Go read it all now.

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We Need to Be John the Baptist Today

Many people say that words fail us during these times of great challenge, when parents can’t even send their kids to kindergarten.

I respectfully disagree. I can say that many of us don’t know what to say during times when horrendous situations befall us, and to protect ourselves from saying something stupid, we say nothing. And that suffices, most of the time. Our presence is more than enough and often that is only what people remember anyway. I remember little of what has been said to me at funerals, but I always remember those that went out of their way to be there.

But that doesn’t mean that preachers and pastoral workers can take the easy way out. Words may not be able to express all that we feel, but they can certainly express something. A friend told me that a mass she attended started with a priest refusing to light the third Gaudete (rejoice) candle for the third Sunday of Advent because we cannot rejoice today.

Yeesh, what an awful message of hopelessness. If I were there I probably would’ve walked out, but not before yelling “BLASPHEMY!”

The truth of the matter is when we don’t have the words to express our feelings the church gives us words. The words of scripture and the gospel and the words that struck me most today are from the gospel from.John the Baptist. Heard in today’s context, they struck me quite differently than usual:

“Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

You see we all need to be that herald’s voice today. We all need to shout for joy because The Lord is alive. My grammar school friend Keith Pitts, summed it up greatly today by saying “I’m too blessed to stay stressed!” Note that it says “stay” not “be” because we all become stressed for a variety of reasons but with God we have no reason to stay stressed because God always has the last word.

And we need to share that message of how we can rejoice in the face of such darkness today.

Because God always makes a way out of no way.

Our cloak today is that love that God has offered to us in the darkest moments of our lives that we now share with those who are stuck in darkness. When we see injustice, or worse, when we see people like the Westboro Baptist Church take up their vile words of hatred towards those who are hurt, we need to stand up and say “No, we rejoice in God’s redemption, forgiveness and God’s strength in righting all that hatred tried to upend for us this week.”

Gaudete Sunday is all about words. God’s words that remind us to rejoice because God is with us even in our pain. God is beyond us, somehow holding those who died tightly where no harm will ever come to them again. And God is within us, beckoning us to cloak all those unable to feel God’s love, that Gaudete we speak of, with our own words of healing and touch of understanding their pain.

This was not OK. And today begins our journey to tell the world that God doesn’t think so either.

For tonight…we have only one word. Gaudete …the words of the baptist’s call that God is near and that we need to repent and rejoice…
….and those words of rejoicing are always more than enough.

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We Must Not Stay Silent

Close to 30 dead…most of them children…Suburban Connecticut…

The words haunt us all. Children somehow makes this worse as if killing an adult makes it somehow easier to take. Newtown…a place people move to because it’s supposedly safer.

None of it makes sense to any of us. A sadistic person, apparently only 24 years old is the killer. Someone known to those inside the school. A man the same age as many of my students, with a name close to a student who dropped my class earlier in the year. Who knows why, as if knowing why might make it easier to understand. It doesn’t…it never will.

When things are senseless to us we ask the question “Why?” Why does God allow such horror? HOW can God allow such loss of life?

Friends on Facebook write words like “speechless”, “too early for words.

NOBODY deserves to die at the hands of another, a senseless crime and a horrible death. Deaths too soon, much too soon for children. Sacred life, all. Taken unjustly.

Evil wants us to be muted. Evil hopes fervently that we stay silent. Evil hopes to stun us so violently that we are unable to rise above the violence of today and speak in the name of peace and justice.

It’s hard to believe that God can redeem this…that God can embrace each child, each person, killed and make them whole once again. After all, a violently planned murder, 30 counts of murder, an open and shut case…makes sense to nobody.

Larger than Columbine. Blitzer reports. And we thought evil could not do worse.

We need to believe that evil does not rule the day today. God is greater than all of this. While we are sitting in sadness and parents and families sit with the senseless and horrifying loss, evil laughs at our silence.

So I write…and I hope you will too. Write more than your fears and your stunned disbelief. Write about redemption and hope and light overcoming darkness. Write about how God doesn’t think this is OK. Write about how God cries with us at each murder. God, a victim of murder Himself, hanging from a cross at the hands of another, cried in pain and cries again today.

Write about that. Speak about that. Preach about that.

We need that voice, but often settle for the voice of vengeance.

If anyone understands their pain it is Mary, seeing injustice, even with the knowledge that Christ’s death saves us, the pain doesn’t stop for a mother who watches her child die.

And vengeance is our first reaction, a natural thought. We quote the bible’s “an eye for an eye” forgetting that the line refers to limiting violence not promoting it. It stopped people from butchering others when they were hurt or violated by another to a lesser degree. “No MORE than an eye for an eye.”

Stopping the cycle of violence begins with our voices. Voices of hope, that hope beyond hopelessness. This hope brings us into belief, fervent belief that God can and does redeem all evil, especially when we see how much destruction evil can bring.

Gun control, anti-violence campaigns, cable news will tell us all of these angles. As if evil will be stopped, by any of these political initiatives.

Jesus reminded us that “the poor you will always have with you.” Perhaps he meant that the world will always be broken. A world where parents lose children because they sent them to kindergarten, we’re THAT broken.

My wife works in a school. I can’t imagine her not coming home simply because she taught children. Evil is trying to make us afraid, fearing that we can’t overcome this. That God doesn’t care.

And because our world is broken, it is indeed in need of God’s healing. And it is up to us to speak. LOUDLY…

Because this is not OK. This is not of God. And that God somehow, someway is able to redeem the worst of all of this evil.

Ghandi, a man of peace, reminds us that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. And may our voices rise today…to remind all that we are not defeated by hopelessness and that in our deepest heart, we long to be a people of peace.

My heart goes out to all of those who lost loved ones today. For Christmas presents that go unopened and for parents who have hearts full of rage and anger at the senselessness of it all. Indeed, God is there longing for peace, holding your child, all the children, all the dead. They now know peace. A peace we can only hope for. A peace that children remind us is within our reach, if we only believe. A peace that is truly awesome to believe can be ours. A peace we need to pray for today so that no child’s voice can ever be stilled again by gunfire, but can instead, sing with great hope.

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When You Survive a Shooting Only to Be Killed in Another

The Colorado movie theatre shooting gives us just one more look into the lives of young people who’s generation is marked by a number of random acts of violence. It’s so rampant in their lives that one person could in fact have been present at more than one random shooting now.

And I’m not talking about someone who lives in a gang infested area–that’s obvious. Two of my colleagues from my former career in sports pointed me towards this story of Jessica Ghawi, also known as Jessica Redfield, an aspiring sportscaster and prolific tweeter.

Ghawi was one of the 12 killed by a madman who threw tear gas into a movie theater filled with people about to watch the Dark Knight Rises. Sadly, Ghawi also was in Toronto at the Eaton Center Shooting just about a month ago and survived because she “felt funny” and went outside.

She blogged about being at the Eaton Center at the time.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

This is too eerie and ironic to not be true unfortunately. This young woman at the start of her young career could have been gunned down a month ago and then ends up being randomly killed because she decided to go to a movie. I wonder if her “spidey sense” tingled again in the theatre last night only to ignore it this time around?

Some friends on Facebook and I’m sure more around the world are angry and hope to see the killer executed. Colorado reinstated the death penalty in their state in 1975 and three people await that penalty on death row in Carson City. None of their deaths will bring back the lives of those that they have killed (Two are accused of murder and another of conspiracy to one of the murders) and neither will that happen in this case. Capital punishment does not restore justice. What it does do is perpetuate evil. Evil wants us to go to that hopeless place where all that can be present is violence and revenge.

The killer whose name I won’t print because he doesn’t deserve any notoriety, should be punished obviously and I hope he gets put away in prison for a very long time to pay for his crime. That’s justice. But it is unjust for us to kill someone and disguise the same act that was committed as justice.

Today let us pray for the victims and for peace in our streets and in our hometowns and in the world. May we move away from evil and into God’s peace. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we do not let anger get the best of us and that we can move into a world where violence does not beget more violence and where we can learn to offer grace in the face of evil.

And for Jessica, especially, may you rest in the arms of God, who redeems you this day and holds you closely forever. And may our young people one day live in a world where they need not worry about simply going to see a movie or grabbing sushi at a mall.

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