there are times here when the sheer magnitude and depth of violence, in myself and in the world around me, threatens to knock me over.
on monday, october 11th, violence came to my neighborhood in the form of a gruesome, troubling domestic violence murder/suicide. the details are so awful that even hearing about them is traumatizing. but this shooting took place on a sunny Monday afternoon, which guaranteed that people (including children) witnessed it.
i waded through police cars an hour or so after the incident to check on my favorite baristas, whose cafe was surrounded by yellow tape. they were physically fine but emotionally troubled, like any decent person would be. i told them i'd be thinking good thoughts for them (which is my way of praying for hipsters and atheists without them knowing).
as i walked home, i started to think more about violence. it was also Columbus Day and National Coming Out Day. it was the day before i returned to my internship, where violence is relatively prevalent. i was coming off of two weeks where violence seemed to define my relationship to others and all my prayers seemed soaked in its effects on me and others. so i started thinking about how complacent i'd become to violence. it took something so unbelievably heinous to help me remember that, when people in my community die, it affects EVERYONE. on that monday, one person made a horrible, horrible choice. and that choice rippled outward, in terrible concentric circles of disaster. and since the person who made that choice was gone, everyone was left to make meaning on their own. and that didn't seem right.
and while i was walking and thinking, i felt this voice say that the place where this violence happened ought to be remembered. and that i needed to do something. which is, frankly, crazy. and even crazier is the fact that i deeply felt that what i needed to do was gather people to pray there. pray. in public. at a murder site. and ask people i know to join me. even typing it seems a little ridiculous. i figured people would laugh. or think i was crazy. or, worse, thinking i was being disrespectful of what happened.
but, by the time i got home, i was resolved that, even if i did it myself, i was supposed to be out there praying. so, from 6pm-8pm, i texted and facebooked and tried to figure out what to say to whomever might show up. and i tried not to imagine that this choice might make all my friends think i was nuts.
at 8:15ish, we had a small but wonderful group. most of them were people i knew who'd come because they value nonviolence. and community. and me, i realized, which is just so strange sometimes...these amazing, beautiful, wonderful people choose to be in my life. it's humbling in the extreme. in addition to my friends, we had a community pastor show up. and, most humbling of all and the greatest gift of the Spirit, our little band of folks with a candle and some flowers attracted the notice of woman who had witnessed the violence earlier. she came into our circle and felt safe enough to share her hurt and her horror. being able to pour out love and kindness on her felt like exactly what i'd wanted to do. in fact, even though the whole gathering was brief, i felt more connected to the Holy Spirit than i ever have before.
i try to live my life in a way that recognizes that community builds great things. or, as my Catholic Worker friends are fond of saying, community answers the question "what can we do together that we cannot do alone?" but, so often, i forget the true amazing grace of community. but the small community that formed that night grew something that has had some amazing effects. we helped someone deal with trauma. new relationships grew, for me, out of that day. even the owners of the apartment building, who weren't interested in having us on their property and were pretty dismissive, started letting others leave flowers. an altar of flowers lives out there now, including the ones our group brought.
it's not the hugest thing i've done and, in the face of such magnitude of violence, i don't want to get too comfortable with my response. i could always do more. but i guess that's the biggest thing to grow out of that day - i now desire to do more. i desire it so much and i'm trying to orient my life so that that desire - for the Holy Spirit of nonviolence and for my life to be a daily response to the violence before me - is the animating force of my life. i'm failing more than succeeding, but that's why we have access to infinite grace, i suppose.
please pray for me (or think good thoughts) as i try to discern what a daily response to violence looks like, and how i am meant to answer the radical call of the Holy Spirit. The Lord knows I can use all the help i can get...