The face of tragedy. We have seen it in the last week, with shootings at Ford Hood and Orlando. It is impossible to imagine what the survivors of those horrible events and the loved ones of the murdered must be feeling. The notions of safety and security are blown away with a gunshot, as people were just going about their daily business, and soldiers were in the place they must have thought was as secure as any place in the world.
The problem of evil. We can probably never know what was in the minds of the gunmen. What insanity, what hatred, what complete disregard of humanity allows a person to take the lives of innocents? It’s not just the theological question of “how is evil present in the world?” but also “how does a person get to the point where he performs such an evil act?” Questions in the 24-hour news cycle are about whether or not these acts could have been prevented, or how to recognize the signs that tell you danger is looming. These are good questions, even if they don’t have easy answers, or any answers.
Maybe it is because of what I do for a living, but my questions are different from those. I want to know how those who are left can get on with their lives. What will be the first day when a survivor to the Fort Hood shooting will be able to wake up in the morning without that event being the first thing that comes to mind? When will the office worker in Orlando be able to walk into that building without looking over her shoulder? When will the spouse of a victim stop waking in the night wondering how things would have been different if the loved one had been delayed 5 minutes that day? When will the shooters’ families be able to move beyond their own feelings of guilt and perhaps find one sympathetic listener who won’t blame them?
When I was in the mountains a couple of weeks ago, we were taking a break from our construction work and I wandered around the lot with my camera. The building space was carved out of a steep hill, which gives the homeowners an incredible view of the knobs and hills out their front door. About 10 feet from the back of the house is a sheer rock wall of limestone and a small seam of coal. You’ve seen those types of bluffs. From even a few feet away, they appear very stark and empty of vegetation, save a scrubby tree here and there that has found root, or a bit of grass on a shelf where some dirt has fallen.
I started to take pictures of the rocks with their lines and shadows and gradations of gray, but something else caught my eye. It was tiny, and I would have missed it if I hadn’t slowed down. It’s some type of lichen, I think. (I’m not a botanist. Feel free to correct me.) It’s about an inch tall, hard to see unless you’re right on top of it. Though miniscule, it is quite lovely.
If I may use this little plant as a metaphor, I see it as a sign of hope. It grows almost invisibly in a surface that shouldn’t support much life. In the black and gray of the coal, it is a spot of gray/green, just a little bit of color. It was startling to discover it, hidden there in a crack in the wall.
Perhaps this is a decent prayer for those who survive tragedy of any kind: though the hardness cannot be changed, may life someday again spring up. Though no one else can know their suffering, or feel what they feel, may there be a place, perhaps hidden even to them at this point, where God can again plant hope and love, peaceful days and restful nights, the kindness of strangers and the beauty of friendship. Though nights are dark and even the days are gray, may color soon begin to make its way once again into their consciousness. May they pay attention and someday be startled again by the discovery of something good growing in the place where cold gray hardness now reigns.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2009