The weekend had finally arrived. The one that took 140 text messages– scheduling around work, gymnastics, volleyball, bowling and school. But, we finally pinned down a date and some of my tribe and I began our girls weekend celebrating birthdays, two of whom having hit the fabulous 40. We stayed at a hotel with a lazy river with a 1,200 square foot room with all the bells and whistles; the kind that made us forget we were in the center of Orlando, Florida.
If you are a Floridian like the 4 of us are, you visit Orlando as much as humanly possible. It is (or was), the “Happiest Place On Earth”. We did absolutely nothing for the entire weekend. We cooked and stayed in the room except for the hours spent in the lazy river; and with each lap we had random conversations with people from all over the world. Some of them were like us; from big cities in Florida–who just needed a respite from the rat race.
Orlando has a way of making you feel like you have been transplanted to another planet. Nothing bad happens in Orlando; unless you have a vivid memory of being scared to death on a rollercoaster, stung by a bee, sat in traffic or had to relent to heat and go inside. Everybody loves Orlando, right?
I woke up early in the morning of June 12th and,out of habit, picked up my iPad and checked Facebook, email, and Twitter–because one can’t go a whole 8 hours without doing that. It is a horrible habit of mine and on this particular middle of the night check in, I wished I hadn’t. The news was still developing and the number of fatalities just kept increasing. I finally fell back asleep, but not after having felt like cold water had run through my veins as I have many former students and even some friends from college who live in Orlando. I was too groggy to even grasp the news of another mass shooting; much less in the the city of the house that Mickey built.
Later that morning when I was awake for real, the news was still pouring in with suppositions of why it happened and gun control people were already burning up their social media accounts and even more up in arms about it being a gay club that got hit; but mostly my observations of others were that of my own, people everywhere were stunned. This happens in other cities, big cities, NOT the happiest place on earth! The over-whelming majority of people were simply asking the same question “why?”.
Some tried to answer-with bad timing, I might add. Experts have probably figured it out on some level, but not a level our minds can comprehend. Folks have their opinions and they are free to them; but in reality 49 people died by the hands of another human being; regardless of whether it was a target on people of a different sexual orientation than their own, or if the killer was a terrorist from Alaska or mentally ill. I don’t think anybody really knows “why”–and even if we did would be be able to understand it anyway?
These things are becoming far too common in our world. I find myself not even looking up when I hear on the news that there has been another tragedy in the country I love so much. Now, it’s more about “how bad is it” versus “O my God, how could this happen?”. Taking the lives of another human being defies logic; it confuses our hearts; because we aren’t built to understand these things. We aren’t supposed to kill our own; we aren’t supposed to hurt our own; but we do–and we still don’t know “why”; or do we?
It didn’t take long for me to pick up my phone and check in on my Orlando people; and I found out that Facebook now has a feature where your friends can check in “safe” when in an area of tragedy. Strangely comforting; but a sad little algorithm. Once I heard from almost all of them the very next thing I did was pick up my phone and texted my Disney buddy as news had broken that the killer had cased Disney properties as well. Such senseless, mind boggling events are so hard for me to grasp-some more than others, but this one hit me hard. And that question traveled from my brain to my heart, and it is still branded there, why?
As I began to think about that a little more, I was reminded of sitting in that 1,200 square foot hotel room with my friends just one weekend before; chatting like close friends do–conversations that included just about anything you can think of on the spectrum of conversations and maybe a watching a little Auburn World Series softball. And then, like this group of friends tends to do; our conversations went deep. And when I say deep, I don’t mean solving the world’s problems deep, I mean a safe place to share and get past the all too familiar cliche’ Christianity, and sometimes examine all the things we have both learned and taught about our faith.
We are all at an age where we can look back and thank God we are not 20 anymore, but young enough to avoid “traps” if you will. We are at the age where the hard part should be at least subsiding. That part of life where you are not maxing your credit cards out, you own a home, the friends you have are the friends that will sit on a porch with you one day in a rocking chair talking about “when we were…”. The “sweet spot” age as I like to call it.
It is also an age where you probably have not been able to avoid seasons of suffering. And everybody in that room have the stories that God is writing for them. All 4 of us don’t have to dig very deep to uncover unimaginable pain; suffering; or confusion. As we were talking 2 of them expressed gratitude of how God protected them; in a very specific way. And without even thinking and for the first time ever in my life, I said to my friends “then why didn’t God do that for me?”
You could have heard a pin drop and they all 3 looked at each other and wondered who was going to speak; these 3 friends are part of a group of people that have picked up the broken pieces of my life post abusive marriage–countless surgeries, hospital stays and, of course, Crissy had a front row seat to a complete nervous breakdown. I always felt that asking that question was of no import. It doesn’t matter, it is done, let’s move on; let’s pretend it never happened. So, to say that they were stunned that those words came out of my mouth is an understatement; and I was equally as surprised. I later apologized to them for throwing that question out there like that as I know it was awkward for them; but that early morning Facebook check on June 12th brought that same huge question to the forefront of my mind. I, along with the rest of the world are asking, why?
That night, none of them gave me any sort of Christian cliche’ answers, in fact for the most part they all just starred at me (and for that I am grateful). I wanted the words back; but it was too late and certainly the question was a reflection of something playing in the background of my mind. Their response to my question, I think, painted a perfect picture of our world right now. We see people with blank stares. We see tears, buckets and buckets of tears. We see anger, enough anger to run a nuclear power plant. We see people with opinions and solutions, albeit not as simple as we would like. We see fear; crippling fear. And all of those things; all of them are just versions of the same question I had for my own pain and trauma, “why”–can anybody just tell me why? And why did some people live and some people die? Why didn’t God chose to save all of them? Why couldn’t the killer be captured and punished instead of taking the cowardly way out of his actions? And of most import, why are we now living in a war zone?
The answers to those questions seem simple to some; but we all know it’s not that simple. Or is it? Just like my question in that hotel room with some of my closest friends; sometimes it is just beyond human comprehension. All week, I have watched as the story continues to unfold, and the tears don’t stop, I didn’t know anybody that was killed; but it doesn’t stop me from me asking the question; and so I do.
The truth is that question, or my question, may never be answered on this side of heaven. And somehow, we have to be okay with that. It doesn’t mean that we don’t take action; it doesn’t mean that we don’t attempt to figure out even a portion of that giant question. And everybody will try to get the answer to this question in the way they always have; and for me it lands me before my God Who I do not understand; a God I (sometimes) I think has forgotten me; a God Who has a history of walking the entire world through unimaginable suffering. A God of Hope not only for eternity but for here, the “land of the living”. But…I have to live here, on earth, so, what now?
Our next actions are going to be be hard; as is the realization that we don’t live in a safe world. There are scars that will remain; and we can hope that those scars will teach us something and help us answer the giant question with just three letters. It would be sad if these tragedies didn’t produce something that will remain after we are gone; therefore, it must serve as a call to action for every single one of us.
The reason behind your question or mine doesn’t matter; it’s a valid question; and it is a right and a healthy question. And while we may never get answers, may the question spur us into responsible action to be citizens of the world; doing the best we can to take care of each other and not harm others whether it be in a story like mine; a story like 49 people in Orlando; or countless others over the last two decades. Our most important responsibility is to figure out how to keep asking the question without fighting each other.
As for me, I am alive; I wasn’t shot in a mass killing. But the trauma in my life sometimes feels like an ambush. It sometimes feels like it is never going to end; but I still want to know “why did you do it for them and not me?”. And my “them” I don’t just mean my friends in that room, but for versions of redeemed protection stories all over the world. I imagine the family members of those that died in the Orlando shootings are feeling a little like that right about now.
While I began writing this so that people across all faiths would read to the end, the responsibility is not lost on me to tell you that our only Hope is not here. It is not found in gun law reform; understanding sexual orientation; or understanding straight up evil. It is found in the only One that died so that this whole world could live. Hope, that is the answer. Hope, in the land of the living. Because of that Hope, we have Healing, healing in the land of the living. My friend’s starring at me and not giving me some sort of canned answer brought some healing to me that night. And while Christians cling to Jesus during this dark time in our history, we do not pretend to understand and we have the same emotions that everyone else has. We do not pretend to have an earthly answer to this question; this universal question to all suffering….why?
Most assuredly, I (we) may never get the totality of the answer “why” in Orlando, or even my own version of the biggest question in the world. Until then, I will not let go of the out stretched hand that holds the reasons WHY.
“I know down here I may not understand, I won’t let go of the outstretched hand, for it holds the reasons why”. 4HIM