A few months ago, I watched my 9-year-old son conquer his fears and climb to the top of an indoor rock wall, a big accomplishment for him. As I lingered over the photos a day later, I thought of the parents of those children massacred in Uvalde who will never again get to watch their child climb a rock wall, graduate from high school, or fall in love.
Sadness quickly turned to fury as the NRA went ahead with their convention, using the occasion of the massacre to push their familiar, and under the circumstances, heartless message: “what we really needed in Uvalde was more guns not fewer.”
I concocted all sorts of sadistic fantasies of what I wanted to do those people at the convention.
Then a colleague turned me onto an organization called the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. It was founded by Scarlett Lewis after her son, Jesse, was murdered during the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012, one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.
Here was a mother who lived through the greatest tragedy that a parent can ever experience. And she transformed her profound suffering into a movement to heal our broken society through the power of love.
That was a message I myself needed to hear, and we all need to hear right now.
In a recent blog post I’ve written about love in connection with my Books Behind Bars program, in which university and correctional center students meet to explore big life questions through conversations about Russian literature. I work with young men and women who have murdered, raped, robbed, sold drugs to minors, and done many other things.
Yet what I’ve learned through this experience is that there are very few truly evil people in the world. There are broken, ill, alienated people. And there are people in agony, like the 18-year-old murderer in Uvalde who felt he had no other outlets for his pain.
Humility, Compassion, and Love
We have all been traumatized by life in one way or another. For some, like people of color, that trauma is built into the very fabric of our society. For others, like the incarcerated students in Books Behind Bars, a dysfunctional family environment or mental illness was the catalyst for their downward spiral. I even suspect trauma lies behind the compassionless behavior exhibited by some members of the NRA after Uvalde.
What we all share, though, is our fundamental humanity. We are interconnected within a great labyrinth of linkages, my fate intertwined with yours and yours with mine, whether we realize it or not. Given this, compassion and humility are our surest guides and the one true way forward as a society.
If Scarlett Lewis was able to choose love, why can’t we?