All week, I know that on Tuesdays I will have the chance to write something - anything - to you.
Often, I choose from a stable of ideas I keep in the notes section on my phone. Or I get inspired outdoors, on a bike ride or a (short) run. Or I wake up at 4 a.m. with an idea forcing its way out of my brain, heart pounding, mind racing.
This time, nothing seemed inspiring.
I went for a bike ride around the lake, hoping that - as often happens - inspiration would strike midway through, with the wind blowing hard in my face and my mind finally clear of emails and phone notifications.
It’s weird, and maybe you can relate, but as far as my personal life and family — we’re doing good. We’re relatively healthy. We’re working and the kids are going to school, and they’re having so much fun with nonstop games and practices. I’ve basically become a chauffeur, and it’s fine. I love it.
The weather is finally warming up, and my heart jumps a little bit still every time I see a bright red or yellow tulip, poking its way out of the formerly frozen ground.
It’s all good, but …
CNN video showing faces of some of the victims of the May 6 Allen, Texas, mall shooting
Maybe it seems a little silly, or overly pedantic, to write about not being able to write. I never liked those over-wrought, overly introspective pieces about the <agony> of writing, when I’ve always considered the time and space and ability to simply sit and write to be an overwhelming privilege, too rarely granted in a world of capitalism and economic inequality.
So I won’t bore you by talking about my wrapped-too-tightly writer’s brain.
What I will say is that every time I started thinking about writing, I couldn’t stop thinking about Cindy, Kyu, and James Cho. This once-family-of-four is now a family of three: the only survivor of the Allen, Texas, mall shooting in their family is 6-year-old William.
I couldn’t stop thinking about 20-year-old Christian LaCour, a mall security guard who used to walk employees to their cars after dark.
About fourth-grader Daniela Mendoza, and her second-grade sister, Sofia.
About Indian-American engineer, Aishwarya Thatikonda, aged 27.
About Elio Cumana-Rivas, aged 32.
I have already written far-too-often about gun violence and mass shootings in this newsletter. More than once I have planned a different article, only to dwell in lament and calls to action after yet another senseless crime, yet another angry and hate-filled young man, another military-grade assault rifle turned against innocent children.
I’m telling you all this because I think the Texas mall shooting on Saturday, May 6, is the reason I couldn’t find the words to write today.
And not just Allen, Texas, but all the other cities, names, and faces that necessarily blur together in our minds today in America, in a year where we’ve already suffered an unfathomable (but actually, fathomable) 200 mass shootings.
I wanted to type the names of the victims here, to see their faces swim before my eyes, because it’s all I can think of to do anymore. I don’t want to remember their faces, to know that this past Sunday at my son’s basketball tournament, a person could have whipped out a gun and started shooting - instead of us cheering on a championship and taking photos in the gym, smiles stretching across our faces. But every time I shut my eyes I see the smiling families standing together, irrevocably now torn apart, due to embers of hatred flamed by conservative right-wing media grifters, by those in power, especially Republican politicians, who have refused to carry a conscience about the mounting death toll of gun violence in our country.
The shooter had tattooed his body with Nazi, white supremacist emblems of hate. The military discharged him from its forces. People knew. They knew.
Still, he had access to deadly weapons, including an AR-15.
I keep thinking, too, about the police officer who responded and killed the mass shooter, undoubtedly saving many lives. He is a hero. But now, also, he too has to live with horrific memories, carnage, and the knowledge that he was forced to take the life of another human being. It’s a heavy toll, too heavy, to continue to ask of law enforcement officials, especially as mass shooters are heavily armed, with access to the same body armor and protection worn by law enforcement.
Every time I write one of these articles, I wonder if another mass shooting will happen before the article is published. Usually, it does. Still, I write.
As I do, my brain paints a picture in my mind.
I see a funeral pyre, burning, black smoke wafting into a cloudless blue sky.
A crowd of people stands around it. They’re shouting something, but all the words blur together, so they can’t be understood. They’re angry and shaking their fists, but some people look triumphant.
The flames burn orange and red.
A man with a shaven head comes out pushing a wheelbarrow. In it are sheaves of papers, piled high, all filled to the edges with typewritten words. No margins, just words and words and words and words.
I realize that what is burning on the pyre is not bodies but our words. Our thoughts. Our prayers.
Nothing left to write. Nothing left to say.
A fourth grade classroom holds an empty desk. A home is sold with three bedrooms, one for the parents and one each for the two boys, ages 6 and 3. Their photographs were turned backwards in their frames.
I still see their faces, though.
A Few Notes …
First, a huge THANK YOU to all subscribers. I get a little email notification every time someone signs up, and every time I get one, I feel joyful and honored that you want to spend part of your day with this community. I mean it when I say: “I’m listening,” to you as well, and please don’t hesitate to share with me your thoughts + ideas for what you’d like to read in this space.
To PAID SUBSCRIBERS: I am humbled and honored that you’ve chosen to spend part of your limited budget on this newsletter. To borrow words from another newsletter I love, you are directly funding freelance journalism with your subscription, and I have to thank you more than ever for your continued support. Our world’s media and journalism is in a state of crisis, with fewer and fewer billionaires in control of global news outlets, and journalists being either laid off or threatened with violence for their work every single day; with fewer and fewer newsroom positions paying a living wage. I pledge to you to steward your paid subscription faithfully + use it to support honest, hard-working, and LOCAL journalism. One of my goals in this first year is to open this newsletter to other journalists, and pay them a fair wage for their work.
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On free vs. paid-subscriber posts only: My plan right now is that the Friday + Sunday posts, focusing on news + spirituality, in that order, are available for paid subscribers only (after this first week). My plan is that the Tuesday blog-style posts will always be free, to enable as much access as possible, while creating a smaller and more intimate experience for paid subscribers, who are also able to comment and share in community in fuller ways.
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Amen. Amen. Funeral Pyres! Prophetic fire in the bones (including yours); fire of prophetic anger, love, lament, and anguish. Unresolved. Hope deferred and delayed sometimes almost disappearing, but still held on to (thank you, Mary Hovland). Thank you, Angela, for still being willing to feel, to listen, to write and speak, even out of the pain that grows seemingly without relief. Oh, the children! Another anniversary passes (Buffalo); soon, Uvalde. Now too many to count. We now need a National Day- of remembrance, lament, communal reflection- and action! A kind of "all saints" day for victims of gun violence. There are so many good groups at work, especially on gun control. Could they all get together somehow? And also mental health advocates, social scientists, churches, broader cultural analysts of violence, political and community activists? A Manhatten Project against violence in school, in malls and places of worship; in poverty riddled and exploited inner cities; against violence toward women and trans, etc., and all who are most vulnerable? And a "Great Call Out" on "Christian Nationalism", racism, facism, ect. Nazi tatoos! RWDS- Right Wing Death Squads! What country is this? Sorry, that's a mouthful. Kryie eleison, kyrie eleison.....
There are no human words. My words fail me also. The only words which bring any comfort to me are God’s Words. And I remember words from St Peter to me. Use every opportunity you have to express the hope within you. Maybe that word for now has to be an act of kindness, a helping hand, or a smile. In helping others, I find hope. In seeing others offer kindness, I see hope. Hope that does not disappoint us.