At 3:45 Wednesday afternoon, the ground fell out from under my feet. My grandmother had left me a voicemail: “I want you to stop what you’re doing and pray. Platte Canyon High School and Fitzsimmons Middle School are – well, there’s a gunman inside Platte Canyon and there are students being held hostage. We don’t know yet what’s happening, who they are. They’ve gotten all the other students out of the high school. You’re mother doesn’t know anything nor does your father. Just get busy and pray – wherever you are, pray.” My brother is a sophomore at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado.
It was the first time in my life that my legs simply gave way and I found myself sitting on the ground in the Dustbowl, unable to move. In hindsight, I recognize this reaction from stories I’ve heard friends tell – stories from the day an airplane flew into the building where their parents worked. But I had never felt this before.
I finally managed to stand – or rather, commanded myself to stand – and wandered up to my original destination: Campus Mail Services; a bit in a daze as I passed through the Eagle’s Nest, until a friend’s call broke through it. I sat down next to her, eyes empty, face and body slack. “What’s wrong?” she asked. I collapsed in her arms: I cried, she prayed.
My grandmother told me to pray: my friend did, but I couldn’t. I mouthed the words and held her hands; but there was nothing but hot tears. And when the tears ended, I could talk and engage in conversation; I could even for a while lose conscious thought of the crisis 2000 miles away. But then it would return, not now with tears but with nothing: emptiness inside.
I remember the next few hours as a series of wanderings, interspersed with conversations, condolences, and prayers: but none of the prayers were mine, and the emptiness remained. If I thought about it enough, I could probably determine a sequential chronology; but the only remnants of an absolute chronology are the time stamps of the calls in my cell phone.
Finally, the one phone call came: Mom was home with Evan, safe. I talked to him, heard his voice: as present as the bird in the tree above, but untouchable – I could not give him a hug. But time started again. I could start thinking about it objectively, because my brother was there again.
There was something inside again: no longer emptiness, but a yearning, not for myself, but for him. What could I do for him? How could I reach out to him? How could I make it better? How could I give him a hug?
The question that has settled in my mind and heart in the days since is, what can I do, not only for him, but for the larger community affected? What can I do as a human being, touched by human tragedy, to respond to it?
The first thing that I will do is to reaffirm my commitment to Life, for this tragedy is ultimately a failure, not only of the gunman, but of society as a whole, to live out a respect for human life. I have often been active in the pro-Life movement, i.e. working against abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and infanticide. My socially just passions cry out for the innocent, born and unborn; for the infirm (and increasingly disrespected) elderly; and for the souls of men who have sinned, for though we may punish them on earth, the punishment of death is reserved to God.
But if I am pro-life, then I am for all Life. As I cannot countenance the destruction of a life in the womb, neither can I countenance the taking of an innocent human life by other means. Furthermore, I have a responsibility not only not to countenance it, but to actively oppose it, and this responsibility will witness itself to the world in an affirmation of the value and dignity of each and every human life. I therefore resolve that not a day now will go by during which I do not consciously witness my respect for human life.
My larger commitment is the means by which this witness shall be made: love. My Lord commanded me to do but two things: to love Him and to love my neighbor. My love for Him is strong; my love for my neighbor needs to be equally so. This is a central tenet of the Christian Faith: the Truth lies not in oneself but in the other, and to love the Truth is therefore to love the other. As one of my prayer cards says, "Jesus first, Others next, Yourself last."
This is no great secret that I have discovered: though a mystery, yet it is revealed in our human nature every day. The outpouring of love within the Bailey community these past few days is proof enough of that. Though I cannot be next to my brother now to comfort him, nor can I personally offer this love to my grieving community there, I can affirm my love among my community here in Boston. Stop what you are doing right now and think about the people around you. Stop and give your friend a hug. Stop and affirm your charity to a perfect stranger. Say, “I love you.” And then do it.