Last week, before the terrible school shooting that took place in Florida on Valentine’s Day, one day before that devastating loss of 17 image-bearers of God, we suffered a school tragedy at my kids’ school, too. It was a different kind of school tragedy, but still devastating.
I was sitting at a Starbucks working when a “robo call” from my kids school interrupted me. I ALWAYS answer those, and I’ll admit I panic a bit when I see one…so I picked up the phone, only to find out my panic was justified this time. I heard the Head of School say, “I have some very sad news…” and my heart dropped. He went on to say that on the way to school that morning, a child I did not know and had not heard of, had died in a car accident. A 16-year-old sophomore, he was behind the wheel, and the only one in the car. For some reason his car went left of center and hit another head on.
I did not know that child existed until I heard he was gone.
And yet, I packed up my work stuff, got in my car, and wept.
Because in our school community, when one hurts, we all hurt. And I hurt for this boy’s mother and father, his siblings, his FRIENDS, who the principal told us, CRIED OUT in the assembly where they were told of his loss.
The memorial fellow students made for 16-year-old Tommy Williamitis the day after his death. Photo: Dayton Christian School/Facebook
It brought back fresh grief of another child at our school who was killed in a car accident just eleven months ago, driving home from school. A girl, this time. Alexis. Tommy and Alexis. I wept for them both, for their families and peers. Two in one year from our small school, it’s TOO MUCH. It’s too much.
And then, Valentine’s Day. Ash Wednesday.
Seventeen more in Florida. Seventeen. And doesn’t murder, cold-blooded, PLANNED murder make it all the more tragic?
IT is TOO MUCH!
The deaths in our small community hurt, because in our school family, when one hurts, we all hurt. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 12, we are all members of one body. And this week, we had a piece of that body shorn clean off. And it hurts. My kids are too young to know the young man who died last week driving himself to school. I have never met him or his parents. But his death still gutted me.
The seventeen lost in Florida are complete strangers to me, a thousand miles away. But oh Lord, how I have grieved for them, for their community, for our COUNTRY, for their families and peers.
I am a soft touch. When one hurts, I hurt. It is not easy to feel ALL THE THINGS, to be so emotional, to take it all in.
But I submit that it is far, far better than having a HARD heart, from casting it aside, from thinking “At least it didn’t happen to me,” or worse yet, “It could NEVER happen to me.”
At some point we have to protect our emotions so we can still function for our families. I get that. I have been there. At some point I have to switch it off, walk away, live in the present, and seize the moment with my kids.
But if my empathy, if my grief, if my over-identifying with these grieving parents and friends and siblings can encourage me to take my one precious life and live it MORE intentionally, then I’ll take it. I don’t WANT to not feel. I want to make a difference, at home, in my community, and in our country.
So in these difficult times, I will FEEL. I will CARE. And I will ACT.
It is the only way to bring any sort of beauty from ashes.