In spiritual direction we say that what is beyond words is holy–silence, stillness, tears, laughter. It in the space beyond words where we encounter that which cannot be named. The mass shooting that took place in Allen, Texas on Saturday happened at the mall where I take my girls to buy their back to school tennis shoes each August. In the days since, I am slowly lost my words and in their place a howling grief beyond words has taken their place.
My children stayed home from school on Monday. Inspired by the shooting in Allen, a student made a threat on four of our school district’s campuses. Our superintendent allowed parents to keep their students home and the absence would be excused. We now have excused absences for all categories of student wellness–for illness, doctors appointments and avoiding mass shootings. Our kids have done shooter drills their entire public school careers, but this specific threat rattled them. My youngest who until this year had been told by her teachers that active shooter drills “were in case a wild animal got in the building” understood this time we were talking about something entirely different and wild in our community. My oldest, who has faced her mortality time and time again with each passing heart surgery didn’t want to return to school. The barrier between “that’s something that happens out there” and “that’s something that could happen to me” broken. The hypothetical is less so.
As the details unfolded about the shooter’s white-supremacy, we were sickened but not surprised. Gun culture has always been a beloved feature of white-supremacy. And we were wrecked when the victims were released–photos of families and young adults that look like our neighbors, our classmates, our friends, our beloved community. All I could think about is how so many of our Asian neighbors and friends already don’t feel safe in public and now, they feel less so.
I have spent a fair amount of time in my writing talking about nurturing the faith lives of children and families. It is developmentally inappropriate to ask 5 year old or 8 year olds or even 13 year olds to contemplate their mortality in such a violent way. It’s a developmentally inappropriate ask to continually ask our kids to carry the day to day responsibility and do the emotional labor around our country’s obsession with guns. It is spiritually irresponsible and unfaithful to ask our children to do this labor on behalf of adults. We cannot talk about teen mental health without talking about the developmentally inappropriate and spiritually harmful work we have asked those teens to do for most of their lives.
I am tired of lament.
I am tired of thoughts and prayers as the only response.
I am tired of the cynicism of disingenuous politicians.
This is not the world God has dreamed for us.
But today I sent my kids to school afraid. With very few words to comfort them in my own parental rage and grief and I wonder if we will have the courage and stamina to turn our holy grief into a better world.