I was a youth minister when the Columbine school shooting occurred many years ago. It was my first experience with public tragedy that effected youth directly during my professional ministry. As the tragedy occurred, I knew I had a group of junior high teens coming to group that afternoon. I didn’t know how many of the kids would show up, but I knew some would. I knew the kids would need a safe place to talk about what happened. I knew I would have to be sensitive and listen to what they needed, not inflict adult needs on them. I scrapped the plan for the afternoon group and started looking for something new to do that afternoon that would be a loose enough lesson that their needs would be met. While planning, I came across a prayer. I can’t remember it exactly all these years later, but I remember clearly how the prayer space was to be set. It was a prayer about the biblical promise that good will overcome evil. That was really what we would be thinking about that day…how does evil happen and he even more compelling question is why does evil happen?
A handful of kids came that day. I had only one of my volunteers with me that day. The kids started to talk and share immediately. They knew us, they were in a familiar, safe place, and they wanted to talk about it and express their fears, their shock, they wanted to ask their whys. So we sat, we listened to each other. As our time together was ending, we took them to the prayer space.
The prayer space included a tactile element…nails. I made a cross out of several boxes of nails laid out on the floor. They were sharp, heavy nails. Although I don’t remember the words of the prayer, I remember the nails. The prayer started with the nails, the kids were asked to touch, take, feel the nails…I did this with along with them. We sat quietly around the space on the floor with the nails in our hands, feeling the sharp point, the jagged tops, the weight of each nail. They continued to hold the nails while I read the words. The words described God’s promise through the cross that good would prevail over evil. The words spoke of difficult times when we sure that God was not there. When terrible things happen and we don’t understand why God would allow those things to happen…then the prayer reminded us that good will prevail. It may not always be easy, but it will be there. I’m pretty sure it had scripture in it reminding us of the promise. I know that as I read it rolling the nail around in my hand that I believed it. I knew then that no matter what horror we faced that the good in humanity would outweigh the bad.
That was way before I was widowed. That was way before the many other public tragedies I’ve witnessed. That was way before yesterday when I heard that someone was killing young children and the adults that cared for them in the classroom each day. As a minister, I found myself very often sitting with the people asking why, trying to be a place of peace and solace for them. I know I don’t have the answer to that question. As I made my own journey watching my life as I knew it end with Dave’s death, I asked why for many years…still no answer. What I do know is that I still believe the ideas in the prayer all those years ago…I do believe that good will prevail over evil in the long run. As a history teacher, I know that humanity has tendencies toward violence and we continue to find new ways to hurt each other. I know that great tragedy happens every day…it may not always be public like yesterday, but I know that people are hurt, killed, and lost forever to their loved ones every day. I also know that goodness, love, kindness and generosity also exist alongside all of these tragic moments whether they are public or private.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw a quote on facebook. I was reminded of the nails, the prayer, and being with those kiddos all those years ago. A widowed friend had re-posted it after seeing it posted by a writer on The Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation website http://widowsvoice-sslf.blogspot.com/. It was a quote from Mr. Rogers that read,
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world. – Fred Rogers
It reminded me of the prayer all those years ago that I used when the Columbine shooting shocked and horrified us. Look for the good, it will be there. It always is there amidst the horror. I have clung to this promise through the years as I have witnessed these public acts of violence. I think of the nails and how sharp they were when I see the heartbroken as they face the unbelievable task of living without their people. I think about the sacrifice and the violence the nails represented. I also think of the love and kindness that will surround most of the people as they walk through the moments when they don’t know how they are able to walk, to breathe, to exist anymore without their loved one at their side. I’ve hung to the threads of this promise when I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, and didn’t know how I would survive without my husband by my side.
When my own whys didn’t have answers, when my heart was in a million pieces on the ground, when I was so broken I thought I would never be well again, goodness, kindness, and love came to me in many ways and through many people. It still does.
My hope today is that all the goodness, kindness, and love that surrounds me will also surround and wash over those people whose hearts are broken right now. I hope that goodness will prevail in their lives over the evil they have experienced. I hope that throughout this horrible part of their journey they will experience the deepest, most consuming love they will ever feel. It is my hope that someday, they will have good again. It may seem to be a lifetime away and the most difficult thing they have ever accomplished, but I hope they know love and goodness again.