The shooting on our university campus Sunday night left two young men dead and the rest of us stunned. I’ve spent the week talking to students about their feelings, reading their writings about the incident, and being hugged by those who can’t yet do the first two.
It’s been a long week for all of us.
It’s common for young people to believe themselves immortal. That’s just part of the teen-to-adult transition package. This makes it especially difficult for them to have their own mortality handed to them in plain view. Tough enough when the tragedy is a car accident or some other mishap, but more difficult when they meet violent, senseless, wrong-end-of-a-gun death on the sidewalk in front of the dorm they live in, on a university campus that normally looks like a vacation postcard.
I could write about the drama of the Sunday night lockdown, or the outpourings of prayer and remembrance since. Both are equally important. I could even stretch the truth and say that we are all healing, those boys will be in a better place, and very soon we’ll all be back to the routine of our lives. But I can’t do that right now. It rings too false and I don’t have the poker face for it yet.
There are two boys who can never again bask in the gaze of proud mamas, doting aunts, and sweet grandmas. All those women full of love and anger and no place to put it. There are four more boys who made a terrible, regrettable, heinous series of decisions, and whose mamas will soon be sentenced to a lifetime of gut-worry and penitentiary visitations.
The world tilted a little on its axis Sunday night and we’re all trying to find new footing. It’s not going to feel like a safe place for a while, and maybe it shouldn’t. All the security mechanisms are in place, the counselors are working double-time, and the phones ring – parent to child – more often than they did before the shooting.
When the talking and the writing and the hugging is done, maybe I’ll have space to make sense of what happened. I can’t right now, though. As a mama and an aunt and a grandma I ache for women left to weather what comes after. As a teacher I have to assign and grade and keep talking like the world will go on, like it already has.
But it hasn’t, and this limbo between the tragedy and the healing is a long stretch of time.