Those of you who know or follow me know that I don’t tend to shy away from topical discussions in my social streams, but somehow Friday was different. My heart ached to voice my anger and send thoughts of comfort to those affected, but I just couldn’t seem to find the words to say what I needed and wanted to say.
We had a planned Christmas gathering on Friday evening. After spending the night basking in the spirit of Christmas and the presence of loved ones, I came home, pulled up my personal blog, GoodPeopleOfEarth.com, and the below post manifested itself on the page. Robbin asked me to share it here, too.
Our thoughts go out to the victims, their families, friends and communities–and every heart impacted by this senseless tragedy. We’re sending love, thoughts and prayers your way from our little corner of Greenville, South Carolina.
—- An Open Letter to the Good People of Earth: Reflections on a Tragedy
I have fond memories of kindergarten. I remember singing along to “The Letter People.” (Mr. H was my favorite.) My kinder memories are swirled with the scent of melting wax on craft days, the ding of the recess bell and the savored flavor of a first gulp of lunchtime chocolate milk.
Kindergarten was a time of innocence. There were thrills to be found in checking out two library books a week courtesy of Mr. Dewey and his decimal system. A blank sheet of manilla paper was both the canvas and catalyst for endless possibilities. This time of year was a flurry of red-and-green paper chains, counting down the days to Christmas as little hands hurriedly engineered reindeer out of pipe cleaners and clothespins.
Today was a tragic day.
Several years ago I lost a dear friend in an unfortunate accident. Until the fateful morning I received that unexpected early-morning phone call, I had been relatively untouched by the impermanence of life and the reality of death. It was more of a hypothetical, as foreign as the concept of infinity or intricacies of quantum physics. Death was something other people dealt with. When my friend died, everything changed. According to my age I was teetering on the fringe of adulthood, but at the core I was still naively invincible. I didn’t see that phone call, that morning or that tragedy coming. It rocketed me into a harsh new reality, one from which nobody walks away unscathed or unchanged. The world I had known and loved felt strange, foreign and no longer my own.
Life doesn’t ask permission to change you. Bad things happen to good people. The rug gets yanked out from underneath us when we’re least expecting it. People are deprived of final farewells and last “I love you’s” every single day. The difference between a Friday you’ll never forget (try as you might) and just another Friday is often as non-consequential as spilling your coffee or deciding to take a different route to work that day. Life does not ask permission to change you.
Nearly a decade after my friend’s passing, there’s rarely a day that goes by that I’m not haunted by unshakable thoughts bubbling to the surface somewhere in the back of my mind. I wonder about him. I wonder what he would be doing now. Would he be happy? Married? Would he have children? Would he be trying to grow a beard, training for a 5k or penciling me in for brunch on Sunday? At 31, I try to think back to the person I was and wonder what it’s like to be frozen in time at age 23. I wonder what it’s like to never know the excitement of walking down the aisle toward your destiny. I wonder what is lost for those who never have an opportunity to throw a graduation cap in the air, hold their firstborn child in their arms or simply run through one more autumn’s worth of golden leaves.
These are the kinds of thoughts that break my heart on a day like today. Empty swingsets. Silent playgrounds. Abandoned pencil boxes, cubbies and backpacks. Finger-painted masterpieces full of happy families and smiling faces tacked to refrigerator doors in homes where life did not ask permission and life will never be the same.
I started GoodPeopleOfEarth.com as a sort of rebellion against all the bad news in the world. Turn on any news station and you’ll find it, much like the tide, beating against the shore promptly at 6 and 11 day after day after day. And while I have made a commitment not to focus on the negative in my life, on days like this, even I find myself wanting to scream, “What kind of world is this!?”
I saw a lovely post floating around featuring a quote from Fred Rogers. And while words can’t right the wrongs, restore lost moments or make sense of the senselessness, in time I hope we will all be able to refocus our eyes on “the helpers,” as Mister Roger’s mother once called them. The Good People of Earth are out there. Their numbers are great. And I believe they carry a torch of hope for the world I know and love.