I’ll date myself with this reference, but remember that time you couldn’t find your car in the mall parking lot a few days before Christmas? Yes, kids, there was a time in a suburb far, far away where humans drove to a large shopping complex to purchase things. Anyway, you older species know the feeling I’m talking about – wandering around helplessly certain that your car is in the next row. Only it’s not.
It’s maddening and frustrating and can even make you feel a bit panicky. You just want to find your damn car and go home. Well, that’s how I’ve felt since early Monday morning when I learned of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I want to stop rambling around lost.
My dear wife and I turned on the Today show at 7 AM as we most often do on weekdays to see the ominous crawl on the screen – BREAKING NEWS. That term has become so overused – especially in the age of Trump where almost every cockamamie tweet is considered BREAKING NEWS. But this BREAKING NEWS was so big that they had to give it a name like a movie title – DEADLY LAS VEGAS SHOOTING – and a dramatic background score – as if the horrific news of someone mowing down innocent folks with an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons at an outdoor concert would not get our attention.
Matt and Savannah had their game faces on – it was all grim news with no amusing repartee with Al about the weather or Hoda with a feel-good story. This was grisly – the largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States – surpassing last year’s largest modern-day mass shooting in the United States in Orlando.
I watched the first twenty minutes or so of the broadcast and then looked at my phone to check Facebook and Twitter. Before the sun had come up on the dead in Las Vegas, people were already posting rants about stricter gun laws. People always post those types of things after a mass shooting but Monday’s posts seemed different to me – they were angrier and many contained the phrase – “save your thoughts and prayers.” And this was all before I had even brushed my teeth.
Throughout the day I continued to see this sentiment expressed on social media – bag your thoughts and prayers and work for stricter gun control laws. The wrath felt personal to me because I felt like that’s all I had to offer – my own thoughts and prayers – which I pretty much kept to myself all day.
Midmorning, my church sent out an email letting members know that the sanctuary would be open all day if we needed a place to sit and pray and that there would be a Liturgy for the Violence in Las Vegas offered later in the evening. It comforted me to know that there was a place to go to mourn communally. I strongly felt the need to be with others – to be with the living – but then I kept seeing the barrage of posts on social media decrying over and over that “prayer doesn’t change things.”
It made me sad, and honestly, a little mad.
Well, no, prayer can’t change 59 dead and almost 500 wounded. Prayer isn’t a do-over – or a naïve pass on the horrors of this world. Prayer alone doesn’t have the power to change things. God knows, if it did, we’d need a lot more churches. I only know that prayer changes me. For starters – it makes me shut the fuck up – which is no small thing. It makes me be quiet and consider the absurd possibility that I might not know everything. Prayer makes me be still and listen – to myself and the world around me. Sometimes prayer makes me feel better – other times it leaves me empty and confused. I just know that it rarely leaves me unexamined.
I get it – this backlash against the rote sentiments of “thoughts and prayers” – especially when they are offered by the same elected officials who bank roll their campaigns with blood money from the NRA. But for me, there has to be a place for prayers in all of this babel. What is the alternative? The purgatory of never finding my car?
My friend Kevin is an Episcopal priest and I found a lot of comfort in his Facebook post on Monday. I don’t think he’ll mind me sharing it – I’ll ask for forgiveness if he does.
The moment we decry prayers and remembrances for the dead because those acts won’t change things is the moment the dead, wounded, and their families and friends stop being people and become political objects. Can we at least wait until tomorrow before we strip them of their humanity? Besides, sometimes, mourning and praying have to change us before we are ready to change the world.
Amen, Kevin. Amen.
I’ll no doubt soon return to ranting on Facebook – I find it to be therapeutic – like a cyber wailing wall. And I’ll work on changing the world, too, but today I’m tired and weary and feeling a little hopeless. And I think it’s okay to stay there for a bit.
I also think poetry can be a form of prayer and I often turn to it when I am grieving. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets and I ran across the poem below that says just about everything I wish I could say in a prayer. I offer it to you simply as nothing more than a map.
Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.