This sure has been a dark day. I was already fighting the despair of facing my second Christmas without my dear, sweet Amber. Now, I read the news that children in school have been killed by someone with guns. We all have been devastated to hear this, I know. It makes no sense. It rattles us to our cores. I know the ragged, deep, unending pain of losing a precious child. But, to lose your child to a gunman while they’re at school only deepens the sorrow to a level that I don’t even want to imagine.
And, all day, I have been wrestling with these passionate, grieving feelings and shock and dismay and a slough of emotions that have been spilling out all over the place, disorganized and raw. A lot of us have been doing that. And, I have reacted to some of the posts people have published with disapproval, feeling that some people are so cold that they immediately either turn the tragedy into evidence that they have been right all along or ammo ready to level at people who have other views as to how this tragedy could have been avoided. We all are united, however, that we wish that somehow, it could have been stopped. I often wonder if things like this really can be stopped. I’m not sure we will ever know.
But, what my mind keeps going to is a tragedy that happened many years ago with people I knew and cared about. One of my co-workers, a soldier and journalist, a person I considered a friend, shot his wife to death with a shotgun 11 times in front of their 2-year-old daughter. My entire office reeled from the news.
He and his wife were from Tennessee. They were young. She was shy, overweight and a little awkward around people she didn’t know. He was fit, charming and had a way with people. My closest friend in the office and I befriended him. He had a wicked sense of humor, and we tried to give him the benefit of the doubt when his jokes showed hints of darkness. He made shocking remarks, but couched them in humor so that you were never sure whether he really believed what he said or not.
She was sweet. My friend and I went to the ballet with her once, and I went to the movies with her. We watched Jurassic Park II, I think it was, and she kept me from falling on the floor when I jumped from fright on the aisle seat I was in by grabbing me as I fell.
She opened up to my friend’s husband, a stay-at-home dad who babysat for my daughter and hers, about some of the ways she was being treated by her husband. He was so angry at her husband he wanted to beat him, finding out what he was doing. Investigations were done but nothing came of them.
He had just been given orders that transferred him to Germany, and we had given him a farewell luncheon at a local restaurant just hours before the incident. His wife had left him and taken the child because he had been having an affair with a college student. Apparently there was a sharp dispute between them about the custody of their daughter.
He drove almost straight from his goodbye lunch to shoot her. I had hugged him goodbye and he drove straight to Tennessee and shot her. I still can’t wrap my head around that.
But, after it happened, I found out that I was not surprised. I understand why people who are friends and family of someone who ends up being a killer didn’t see it coming until it was too late. Sometimes, evil is subtle. You’re living life, day to day, and you don’t want to believe that someone you know and love could be capable of doing anything as extreme as killing someone.
I realized, as I tried to deal with my own feelings about what had happened, even making statements to defense lawyers, that what led to this crime was a series of choices made by my co-worker. I remembered that he was the type of man who never overlooked an insult. He was the kind of guy who said things like, “he’ll be sorry” when he felt someone had done him wrong. All of those memories of things he’d said over the years suddenly came back to me and I felt terrible. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t I do something? Could I have stopped this? I had so many conversations with him, trying to help him have compassion on her when he complained about her. I told him about God’s love and how it sustained me through a childhood that was less than ideal, similar to his own. He disagreed with my take on life, but, he listened. I remember he and another friend having a conversation about me as I walked past the office where they were when they said, “there’s no one like Barb.” I was flattered, but also warmed. I though just maybe he had softened his heart some. When he killed his wife I felt like I’d failed somehow. I also felt very angry that he obviously had not listened to what I’d told him about forgiveness.
I saw that his choice, to always embrace bitterness, to never forgive, led him down the road to murder. He felt justified in taking her life as he nursed those grudges that he loved so much.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that we cannot let our heartbreak here make us bitter. We can’t let it drive us into darkness. We have to fight evil with good. We have to determine, even more fervently than before, that we will love each other and forgive and never let ourselves entertain thoughts of revenge. We cannot let heartbreak overcome us. We need to join together and put aside differences so that we can see the value in the lives of other people. Embrace kindness. Cling to love. Turn away from negativity. Let your light shine.