After the tragedy of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the first helpers we saw wore police or state trooper uniforms, but soon there were teachers, the consummate comforters, fighting back tears, telling of sheltering students and reassuring them they were safe and loved.
A local priest, his voice breaking, shared his experience of holding parents, gathered to wait while the bodies of the dead were identified, and we heard Barack Obama naming those hours as the “worst day of my presidency,” then reading the names of children, teachers and school staff murdered, before calling for new discussion on gun control.
And though former Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, (a victim of foot in mouth disease,) concluded the massacre occurred because “we have systematically removed God from our schools,” every funeral and burial for 20 children and six adults took place in churches and in a Jewish cemetery.
Prayer and Bible reading may be banned in public schools, but grieving families turned to their communities of faith for support. Broken hearts were not only in pews in Newtown. Though 20 percent of our fellow countrymen list their religious affiliations as “None,” the American Atheists raised over $11,000 to help with funeral expenses for lives lost to high-capacity ammunition clips.
Still, it is not only gun legislation, but God who has been called into question since the shootings in Connecticut. Roman Catholic priest Kevin O’Neil asked and answered the hard question of “Where was God?” in a column written from his experience of years of consoling families.
“If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t he use his knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?” Father O’Neil asked.
“Why, God?” is the eternal cry of those left to deal with random death. A college student stands on a corner on a cold and icy day. A car slides on the ice, hits and kills the young man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His life is ended senselessly.
O’Neil writes of his emerging faith in the rest of us. He has come to believe how we are with one another in the worst of times is what makes God’s presence felt and known for those who must deal with unspeakable loss.
It turns out we may not wear the uniforms of first responders, but we are also “the helpers” Mr. Rogers counseled children to trust.
As we fumble with our coat buttons, balancing a casserole, walking with a sense of fear and trembling into a house, silent from the loss of a child’s voice, we are, as the theologian wrote, “entering into the chaos of another.”
We may not have words to silence grief, but we are there because as we hold a hand or sit with a neighbor or friend, bring in groceries or drive a carpool, we are stemming “the black river of loss,” at least for a while.
I pray we live to see a ban on assault weapons, background checks and licenses for gun buyers and resources made available to educators to keep troubled students from falling through the cracks in our school systems.
Those views may fall short of answers needed to stop the killing of innocent children, but they are a reminder the role of protector of all children includes speaking out on their behalf to those who wield power and turn conviction into law. Our voices count. Below are three telephone numbers primed for public response. Please use them.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey: (202) 225-2931, U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss: (202) 224-3521.
Judy Elliott is an award-winning columnist from Marietta.