The Fall of Sparrows
"You are more valuable than many sparrows...not one will fall apart from the Father." Matthew 10
There will be a moment of silence tomorrow morning across this country as we remember the children and adults who were killed in Newtown a week ago. That silence should remind us of the voices we will hear no more. I hope that in that 60 second space we will also recall the thousands of other victims of gun crime in this country and resolve to work together to reduce such horrid violence.
In joining my memory of loss with yours, I wanted to relate to you two images from the Paducah, KY shooting that I cannot ever forget, the first of the three murdered girls and the second of a shattered small town.
Just a few days after the attack on the HS prayer group, the three hearses bearing the remains of the three praying friends passed along Lone Oak Road. With others, I stood and wept as they went by, the white coffins signed by a thousand fellow students visible through the windows. It was a sad and terrible sight.
On that grey, cold, wet December day young and old stood together in our grief and bewilderment, hearts united in pain as our eyes went with the mourners driving south towards the resting place of their beloved. That procession often passes through my mind and I suspect it will until I die. I will never forget those three white coffins.
A few days later I went to a local Wal Mart Super Center to pick up some last minute stocking stuffers. What met me on entering was one of the strangest moments I've ever experienced - less than a week before Christmas I was greeted by a subdued silence. There were no voices - no children shouting, no adults complaining or gossiping, no teenager laughing with a friend. There was music - loud music in fact, bright cheery Christmas tunes providing the sound track for everyone's shopping. But that was all. The store was fairly crowded, yet eerily mute; the music simply amplified the quiet.
We were all there doing what was necessary but said nothing to one another; there was nothing, after all, we could say. We simply picked up our items, kept our heads down, muffled any essential utilitarian conversations - "Yes, that's in aisle seven" - paid for our purchases and shuffled out to an anachronistic "O By Gosh By Golly". The disaster felt infinitely more deeply by the families of the dead and wounded had overtaken us all. The loud, excited bustle of Christmas was gone, replaced by mere duty. Silent night, but not very holy. I will never forget the quiet.
Newtown faces not three, but twenty seven funeral processions. That I cannot even begin to imagine. The residents will struggle this Christmas, knowing their neighbors are hurting, thankful for the joyful shouts of their children as they open presents all while mindful that close by are presents that will never be opened by hands that are now lying still. They will shed far too many tears in Christmas Eve services. They will be angry with God, and angry with politicians; they will wrestle with doubt and fear and feel guilty for not having seen it coming and somehow stopping it - as though either were truly possible. They will be tired from lost sleep, and tense from the non-stop attention of the world's media. They will want things to get back to normal, knowing 'normal' is exactly what things cannot be just now, and not for a long time to come.
Over the next few years, 'normal' will need careful definition in Newtown. There will be law suits, and revelations, and questions, and testimony, and recrimination - it happens all the time as the initial shock gives way to the cold, hard reality of picking up the pieces. These people - this entire community - needs your prayers, from teachers and students to pastors and parents and first responders. I hope that tomorrow when we hug our kids, pray, and pause for that moment of silence, we will see it as the first of many steps we take together to make sure that in the years to come 'death by gunfire' will never be regarded as normal in our country.