For the past six years, our son has attended the elementary school around the corner from our house. He started when he was a tiny pipsqueak of 5½ and now, at 11, in his last days there, he is taller than me. Every step of the way, kindergarten through fifth grade, he has been loved and valued for who he is, encouraged and nurtured, held closely in the arms of a caring community.
This is not to say there have not been bumps along the way (pandemic, anyone?), but all in all, the school and its people create a welcoming and safe place. As we contemplate his leaving there, we are filled with gratitude for the many beloveds who help not only our kid, but all of the kids who enter those school doorways.
Imagining someone entering that building with an intent to kill is completely incomprehensible to me. It is the most horrific of horrific possibilities. And yet. Someone did just that on May 24, at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, murdering at least 21 people, almost all of them children. The sheer number of people is overwhelming. The number of mass shootings that happen in our country is mind-numbing. The ease with which one can gain access to guns whose sole purpose is to murder is inexcusable. It is all too much. Too much, too much.
It’s hard both to take in the vastness of the death toll by gun violence, and the individual particularity of each loss. “Again?! Again?! When will it stop?!” We lament and wail at the statistics. And the words of President Biden echo with a particular resonance: “To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There’s a hollowness in your chest you feel like you’re going to be sucked into, and never gonna be out of it.”
It is impossible for me to sort out the multitude of feelings that I am experiencing all at once. Anger, grief, rage, sadness, fury, frustration, terror, fear and on and on the list goes. Even the feelings themselves are sometimes too much.
And so, I hear you wonder, I hear myself wonder, what do we do? What can we do?
This I know: we can listen and care for one another always, with connection and compassion and kindness.
And we can work to make change. A wise friend of mine keeps reminding me: the antidote to despair is action. There are a myriad of ways to join others in creating a society with a (much) safer gun culture. And we can take these moments to soak in the gift of our loved ones as much as possible.
Each day presents opportunities for change and action and love.
Rev. Emily Gage is minister at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Oak Park.