Till we lay these weapons at your feet, / Lord / How long, how long? –Linford Detweiler of Over the Rhine, “Idea #21 (Not Too Late),” Ohio
My husband casually browsed his phone this morning (you know, the way we used to browse the Sunday paper) and clicked on a link on our neighborhood Facebook page. It was a news story about a shooting spree last night in and around Kalamazoo, including the Cracker Barrel just a few miles away. I’m from the south side of Chicago, very near the city limits, but I’ve never been impacted by gun violence as much as I am today here in a mid-sized town in Michigan.
According to USA Today, Jason Dalton, age 45, a husband and father of two, showed up at random locations in the Kalamazoo area and shot his victims multiple times with a semi-automatic handgun. Six of these people were fatally wounded. A seventh, a 14 year-old girl, was pronounced dead in the hospital last night and then early this morning was reportedly alive, still barely hanging on. The alleged shooter was an Uber driver, intermittently killing between driving appointments. A woman was shot four times at an apartment complex around 6 p.m., then around 10 p.m. Tyler and Rich Smith were shot and killed at a car dealership parking lot on Stadium Drive. About 15 minutes later he showed up at the Cracker Barrel parking lot on 9th Street (exit 72 off of I-94) and took the lives of Mary Lou Nye, 62; Mary Jo Nye, 60; Dorothy Brown, 74; and Barbara Hawthorne, 68.
I was babysitting for friends last night in Richland, northeast of Kalamazoo, very near the quiet country road where this man lived with his family. While I was there, he was 3.7 miles from my house, killing whomever he pleased. A few minutes before 11 p.m. I drove home, probably passing this man on I-94 as I did. I was of course unaware of what was unfolding. Had I known, I would have stayed there for the night instead of driving home. But neither I, nor my friends facilitating a night hike and having dinner after, knew anything. This morning I sent her a message about what happened and how we were driving around unknowingly. “I feel sick about it,” she said, “At 6 p.m. I was standing in East Main St. 2 miles from those [apartments] waving random cars with random people into a parking lot….total sitting duck.” That’s always the haunting part of these stories as we remember them later. The things you were doing while disaster was striking. We know where we were and what we were doing on 9-11, when the Challenger exploded, when President Kennedy was shot.
Though I don’t personally know any of the victims, I shlep past two of those places multiple times a week. On Tuesdays I drive past the car dealership on the way to ballet. On Wednesdays we pass Cracker Barrel on the way to gymnastics. On Thursdays we pass the dealership again on the way to violin lesson. These places are forever changed in my mind. I won’t pass them without remembering the precious lives lost there.
I’m vowing now that when I pass these places and remember, I will pray. I will pray for gun law reforms to make it harder to buy guns. I will pray for politicians to listen to people and not money and end the gridlock games that keeps life-saving laws from getting passed. I will pray for the greater church that we would work harder to reach out to people that we know need someone to come along side them and listen.
And I will not stop there. In honor of Rich, Tyler, Mary Lou, Mary Jo, Dorothy, and Barbara I will write physical, handwritten letters to my congress members and senators (I don’t know who they are but I will find out). Hold me accountable. I will do it. How many of our grandmothers and fathers and sons and mothers and daughters have to die in this country before we’ve had enough?
And why, Kalamazoo, are there so many places to buy guns in this county? Wal-mart, Gander Mountain, Dick’s and in a few months Field & Stream, which will be conveniently located next to a bank and Costco. Not to mention that windowless tan sided building with GUNS printed in red on the side facing Main Street. You know the one, it’s right next to Menards and across the street from the Oshtemo branch of the Kalamazoo Library.
I would like to say, as people always do, that I always thought these are things that happen other places, in big cities. This should have never happened here. I never thought this could happen. But sometime between Columbine and Sandy Hook–maybe it was after the shootings in the Amish schoolhouse–I realized these shootings happen everywhere in America. No one is immune. Just being alive and leaving the house make us vulnerable to gun violence. So I’m shocked and appalled by this. But maybe, sadly, not surprised.
For a few minutes after the news had sunk in and I was crying and visibly upset I thought how can I do this now? How can I put on my Sunday smile and teach preschoolers about our theme for the month “Buckets of Love: Jesus Loves Everyone” without falling apart in front of them? How can I teach the memory work, John 15:12: “Love each other as I have loved you” when it will bring to mind the the killer in our community who did–to put it mildly–the opposite. Then I realized that shaping these young minds to really know and live this deceptively simple verse is one of the most powerful things we can do. Teaching Jesus’ abundant, unarmed love is our strongest shield, our fiercest weapon.
Ferguson lives matter. Black lives matter. Flint lives matter. Kalamazoo lives matter. Unarmed lives matter. Inmate lives matter. Young lives matter. Senior lives matter. All lives matter.