Granted, most of us have it pretty easy. Most of us have not been to war. Most of us have not been to a third world country. Most of us have not been devastated by a natural disaster. Most of us have not been the victims of a terrorist attack or other violent crime. Most of us have not seen poverty and devastation except through the lens of the giant box in the living room. And when one of these life-altering events imposes itself on our comfortable little worlds, most of us don’t know how to respond. I have come to see that while there may not be one right response, some are better than others.
On December 7th, a lone gunman entered Aztec High School with the intention of taking as much life as he could, causing as much terror and disruption as he could, before taking his own life. The fact that he only managed to take two innocent lives before he took his own does not diminish the fact that the families of those two kids and everybody who was there that day, or in any of the Aztec schools, or to some degree everyone in our little town, suffered through a violent attack, the ramifications of which will be felt, to some degree, for the rest of their lives.
On the day of the shootings, Shannon and I escaped to Durango and spent 3 hours in the dark watching “Murder on the Orient Express”. While this may be likened to sticking our heads in the sand, I was feeling frustrated by the constant speculation from the press (almost all of it incorrect) and the hysterical communications coming in over the phone (almost all of it exaggerated), and I wanted to be anywhere else doing anything else besides helplessly waiting for the dust to settle. I am a great believer in the power of prayer and at the time it seemed that prayer was the only thing I could do.
Because we are members of a church family, we felt the impact of the events on December 7th more profoundly than if we had just been here on a break from our travels. I have two friends on staff at Aztec High School. One was locked down with a room full of students in the library. It fell on her to protect all of these people during a time when no one knew what was going on or where it was taking place on the campus. She stayed with all of these people through the evacuation and saw them reunited with their families at the pick-up location. My other friend was locked down with other adults, but three of her own children are students at the high school, and she was living with the uncertainty of their safety during the entire ordeal. Both of these women are also on our staff at the church, and while we don’t have a large youth group at our church, at least a dozen students at the high school call our church home. Also, many of our younger kids were affected peripherally.
So, how did we do, as friends, as family, as a community, and as brothers and sisters in Christ? Or maybe a better question is “How are we doing?”
I stayed away from all the tears and hugging, feeling that it would be somehow disingenuous, and away from the pontificating, feeling that it was too early for talk. I didn’t attend any of the vigils or candle lightings, or any of the memorial services. I felt that they weren’t for me, but maybe I needed to be there for someone else, to show my support. My response was business as usual, feeling that if somehow there was still something that was normal, we could get back there more easily. I could take the pressure off of those who were not able to cope with mundane details. In my own way I thought I was doing what I could by staying out of the way and not making any of it about me. Turns out I got some of it right and missed the boat on some. I had friends who needed hugs from me, and to know that I was there for them. There were kids who needed to know that I cared how they were coping. There were victims who needed to know that I was willing to just sit and listen, or just sit.
So here we are, more than three weeks later, and maybe we all need to take stock. Whatever our initial response to the shooting, we still have a chance to tweak it or do it differently. As our town and our school and our friends and our brothers and our sisters continue to rebuild their lives, we all need to step out of our comfort zones and keep reaching out, keep making ourselves available.
Victims sometimes can’t tell others what they need, but they should not assume that we don’t care because we don’t get it exactly right. For the rest of us, we need to keep letting them know that we are here and willing to help.
On this, the eve of the new year, I want to acknowledge that I wander from God and His plans for my life, and I want to recommit to the work of being His servant and His hands and feet in the world. I pray that I may become more aware of the needs around me.