reservedforbereavedparents

The angled sunlight, though bright, did little to mitigate the chill. We were grateful for the long johns beneath our jeans as we waited with a small crowd for the 3:58 inbound train. I expected it to be full of people just like us: bundled-up mothers and children from the suburbs, equipped with markers and poster board and goldfish crackers, all traveling downtown for the rally. But the train was quiet – at least until we boarded with our menagerie of excited kids. When the train arrived in Union Station I realized that we were still the only group obviously headed to Daley Plaza.

The walk was less than a mile but we moved at the pace of our little ones, stopping for bathrooms and medicinal hot chocolate. The wind was brisk and the sun well behind the skyscrapers by the time we got to Washington Street. I wondered how wise I had been to bring my five-year-old along, even tightly ensconced in layers of wool and innocence.

We were dumbfounded to see an empty courtyard, but a man pointed us to the relocated rally: the Chicago Temple, a gorgeous old urban sanctuary. We murmured our ambivalence to one another. It felt so good to come in from the cold, but the gathering was clearly going to be quite a bit smaller than we had anticipated. Where were the masses of people ready to stand up and cry enough is enough? The organizers showed us to the section reserved for One Million Moms for Gun Control: right up near the front, directly behind the section reserved for bereaved families.

I usually feel so safe in sanctuaries, but as I sweated in the overheated room I felt panic. The rally I had imagined did not place my daughter in such close proximity to pain. I had pictured us standing in the outskirts of a crowd, far off from speakers holding megaphones that could not quite transmit horrific facts clearly enough to reach my daughter’s ears.

I thought the point was to be there. To be counted.

But in the third pew of the Temple I realized that we were there to bear witness to suffering. We were there to mourn with the mother of a six-year-old who was shot and killed in cold blood while sitting on her front porch last year. We were there to feel ashamed when a man delivered the same heartbroken call for strong gun laws that he has been delivering since his son was murdered fifteen years ago.

We were there to pray: How long, O Lord?

My daughter did not hear any of this. The warmth of the room lulled her to sleep against my shoulder before the first speaker took to the pulpit. She slept through it all, mercifully oblivious, while I bore witness and wiped away tears and burned with the shame of having been so apathetic for so long.

The rally ended with a candlelight vigil. The victims were remembered by name. For a moment I thought the sanctuary was too beautiful to sustain such grief, until my eyes rested on a woodcarving of Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem.

My daughter had been holding the unlit candle when she fell asleep, and her grip on it was tight. Ours was the only unlit one in a sanctuary of hundreds of flames. When it was all over but the singing I woke her, gently, and took the candle from her hand.

Her body heat had melted the wax.

 

{Linking up with #ItIsEnough, a Christian social media campaign in support of stronger gun laws.}

7 comments

  1. Omigosh, Katherine. Such raw beauty. Thank you so, so much. For these glorious words, but most especially for your deep commitment to this cause and for your willingness to ‘go there’ in your writing. We so need your voice.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Diana. I feel ambivalent; this is not really want I want to be doing, but I feel so called to it, and I just can’t… not.

      Reply
  2. So powerful, Katherine. Beautifully written.

    Reply
  3. brenda

    where is the anguish for the poor souls whose minds are locked into mental illness ??? helping this could stop multitudes from picking up ANY weapon

    Reply
    • I have more than enough anguish to go around. I do hope that funding and access to services for people with mental illness will be drastically improved. That said, people will mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators, and much of the gun violence in Chicago is gang-related. I am committed to working to prevent gun violence of all types, and see no way forward that does not include stronger gun laws.

      Thanks for reading, Brenda.

      Reply
      • I just reread my comment and realized that the first sentence is utterly wrong: there is so much suffering and loss and grief and outrage that I don’t have “more than enough anguish to go around” … I haven’t enough. None of us do. Lord, have mercy.

        Reply

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