When I heard about the elementary school shooting in Connecticut, my heart grew heavy with the weight of this tragedy. It seems like just yesterday we were grieving the lives lost in Aurora, or wondering about the motive behind the mall shooting in Oregon. The burden of these senseless killings pricks our collective consciousness, leading us to ask how this could happen, and why it seems to be happening with such frequency.
Often blame is placed on politicians for not enacting tougher gun control legislation, or on the parents for not teaching their children morals. Certainly, our culture of glorified violence has a role to play as well. However, most often the perpetrator is isolated from the equation as an “evil monster,” an outlier from society. Questions of sanity and mental health disorders become the focus of the conversation, and we say things like “I hope he rots in hell for what he’s done,” (and mean it). This is a natural response to feelings of overwhelming shock and grief, an instinctual effort to separate ourselves from the evil within this killer and the horror of his actions.
As I continued thinking about the families and victims in Connecticut and the man who ended their lives, a few words by Maya Angelou kept coming to mind:
” I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me. If you can internalize at least a portion of that, you will never be able to say of an act, a criminal act, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it, you have to say “I have in me all the components that are in her or in him. I intend to use my energies constructively as opposed to destructively.”
I think acknowledging this capacity within ourselves for either good or evil is important when reflecting on horrific events such as the massacre in Connecticut. Rather than separating ourselves from such violent acts, we need to realize that we too, have the same ability to commit evil. Knowing that we each have this potential inside of us for either greatness or wickedness places the responsibility solely on our shoulders to daily make decisions that will lead us towards the right path.
As much as the media would like us to believe otherwise, events like this don’t just happen “out of the blue.” Acts of horror are the culmination of a series of wrong decisions made daily, leading to the final atrocity. Likewise, our heroes and heroines did not become role models overnight. Rather, they made conscious, consistent efforts to pursue greatness through selfless acts of service and altruism. Mother Teresa says, “We can do no great things, just small things with great love,” yet how often those small efforts lead to life changing positivity.
During times of mourning and loss it is so difficult to find hope amidst the ashes. Broken families and homes, failing governments and economies seem to dominate the landscape and haunt our eyes and ears with news of darkness. Yet, I have faith in the resilience of the human spirit and our ability to overcome the evil that surrounds us. With each act of love, of self-sacrifice, with each instance of kindness we can show the world that we are more than these collective acts of violence, that in the end Love will win, Light will overtake the obscurity of night.
After visiting with the victims of the Aurora shooting last summer my sister shared this prayer:
“God, may you make my life one of peacemaking and light in darkness and violence. May my life lead angry, broken people to the peace and love of Christ. Send us to the darkest places, Lord. Send us to be the light, Your light that shines in the darkness and the darkness is unable to quench it or overcome it.”