"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Monday, January 7, 2013

R Is For......Rattled To The Core

I lifted that phrase straight from the sermon Pastor Fred delivered yesterday. He chose Three Kings Day to talk about the Slaughter of the Innocents. Every boy child under three in the city, killed. When it's words on a page, it is one thing, he said, but when we see horror with our own eyes, we are Rattled To The Core. He went on to discuss Newtown and parenting and mental health and desensitizing our children to violence.

I'm not desensitized. After years of violent movies and TV shows and video games, I still flinch. My wife laughs at me a little, says it's cute, but when there is pain or blood or something awful on the TV or movie screen, I react physically and noticeably and don't even know I do it most of the time until Lisa points it out.  This weekend we went to see Les Miserbles. This is a musical, if you've not heard, that takes place during some early 19th century political upheaval in France. It's not a happy film. It was a good film, and I quite enjoyed it, but one part got to me, one scene really did Rattle Me To The Core. There are young revolutionaries in this story, and one of them is very young. Gavroche is his name and I judged him to be about 6 or 7 years old. The thing is, he is the spitting image of my best friend's son, Milo. He has the same longish dirty blonde hair, the same slim build and almost the same little face. He has maybe 10 or 15 minutes of screen time, but during that time I totally fell for him, and for the same reasons I have the softest of soft spots in my heart for Milo. He is totally himself, he laughs often (and laughter is not a big part of this movie), he has a look in his eye that says "I might do anything at any time, you better watch!" He is fearless in the way only a child can be. He does the right things at the right time despite being an "outlaw." He is an impish little guy. I'm so stupid, so naive sometimes. I'm just happily watching as the kid crawls out through the barricade to fetch dry powder. I smile as he taunts the Royal French troops pointing rifles at him as he scampers around. So when what should have been the obvious happens and the boy is shot, twice, and killed, I actually cried out/sobbed/yelped loud enough that the people in front of me turned around and looked. Then they did a close-up on his little face and I lost it. I  missed the next few minutes of the movie because I couldn't see through the tears.Yeah, I know it was a movie, it was acting and special effects and camera work. Still, it put it right in my face and I let go.

It wasn't just the movie, I'm sure of that. After Newtown a lot of things have been swirling around my brain and they used that image, the image of a kid who looked so much like a child I treasure, I really do love in a real and personal way, to emerge into the light of day. Or at least into the dark of the Shallotte movie theater.

I cried out for all those kids in Newtown, gunned down while at school. They were in the safe place and it didn't help. They were surrounded by adults who they trusted and who cared for them abundantly and it didn't help.

I cried out for the parents of those kids who will likely ask "Why?" for the rest of their lives. They will wonder what if they kept them home that day? What if they hadn't taken that job and  moved into that school district?I can't imagine the Hell.

I cried out for my friend who needed to see light in her life and instead, right before Christmas, was shown this darkness. My friend who couldn't bear the thought of leaving her children that night and so gave me the gift, totally unintentionally, of giving me a way to help someone in a small way when she asked me to "smooth things over" for her at the theatre show we were both supposed to help out with that night. My son was with me, helping to make theatrical magic, and that helped, too.

I cried out for my wife who was away for the day and couldn't hug her son until late that night.

I cried out for Angel, my almost nephew, who never got to see this world, neither its joys nor its horrors.

I cried out for Heather, my sister, who had to give birth to her first son as a corpse. I cried out for the pain and scars that has left on her and our whole family. Why does it have to be kids? Why?

I cried out for the Helbigs, a couple we are just getting to really know, who lost a son of their own as a toddler. Kelly was a light in the darkness, a beacon of sanity and hope and compassion in a sea of confusion. She kept putting things up on Facebook, things based in the lessons of her own tragic pain, that made such perfect sense, that brought hope. With everyone else going to pieces, she held it together. I tried to thank her for that last time I saw her in person and utterly failed to find the words. I'll try again, this is important.

I cried out for Jenny Cairns. I hadn't thought of Jenny Cairns in years. She was one of my best friends as a little guy. She was blonde and smiley and full of energy and ideas and spirit. She played cars and rode bikes like any boy would. She made me very happy. She was run down and killed while riding her bike in the street just in front of her house in the middle of the day by a drunk driver. She was 8. I had been thinking of her because it had occurred to me that we, as parents, can't keep our kids safe. Short of locking them up, and even then they could find a way to hurt themselves. We can do everything right, just as the Helbigs did, just as the Cairns did and just as the parents of the children at Sandy Hook did, and still the unthinkable can happen.

There was a lot wrapped up in that sob, no wonder it attracted attention. I'm not ashamed or embarrassed by either my reaction or the fact that it got noticed. I feel things and that makes me who I am and that's all I can be.

Fred ended up his sermon by trying to answer the question every preacher has certainly gotten since the Sandy Hook shootings. It's asked in hearts everywhere who don't have a preacher to ask it of as well, I imagine. Where was God? His answer fit in with what passes for my own theology. God is us. God was there first and foremost to take all those children away from pain and suffering and into his embrace. But he was also there in the teachers who tried to save the kids. In the firemen and police and rescue crews who responded. In the clergy and mental health professionals who came to console and listen and comfort. In the outpouring of sympathy from all corners. God won't save us from ourselves, from stupidity and evil and sickness and pain and suffering, not until it's our time. But he lives in us and through us. We need to be God's hands in tough times, we need to be a friend to friends in need, we need to love strangers and family alike. And just as importantly, we need to see that sometimes, while we are asking "Where is God?" He is right there in that friend asking if you're ok, offering a dinner or a hand to hold, even forwarding a stupid joke. God is us and we are God. And somehow, we'll all get through together.

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