December 4, 2015


Shannon. Bennetta. Aurora. Isaac. Larry. Harry. Yvette. Sierra. Robert. Nicholas. Tin. Juan. Damian. Michael. Just 14 of the 12,255 Americans dead this year from gun violence. I don't know all their names. No one knows all their names, but a lot of people know one name.

Pick one. She had a family, friends. He had work he cared about or tolerated or hated. She had a toothbrush and too many pairs of shoes. He had sheets and a pillow that still smell like him. She had worries and questions. He had plans and dreams.

Just like me, just like you, each and every one.

She leaves behind something. A purse someone will have to empty. Cancel the driver's license. Keep the bag or give it to Goodwill? What will help us to remember her? What would we rather forget?

He leaves behind something. The chair he always sat in, formed to his body, which is now, already, beginning to decay. When the game comes on on Sunday, the chair will be empty. No beer bottle wearing a ring in the side table. Nothing but quiet.

Fragments, remnants, remembrances, regrets.

Every one has a story. Every story is full of little details -- her favorite dessert, his favorite novel. The leftovers from the last meal he cooked. Her unwashed clothes.

We turn the story into politics. That matters, don't misunderstand me. I want us to debate what this country should do about guns, though I doubt we have the will to do anything new. If we weren't willing to do something when, almost exactly three years ago, Kindergartners were shot in their classrooms while their Christmas presents lay wrapped under the tree, I doubt we're willing to do anything now. Is there a critical mass of dead children? 

I think the number must be one. One dead child who lived and might have lived to outgrow that jacket, those boots. Who would have played with that Barbie or truck until it was worn and then forgotten in the back of the closet, but would have kept the stuffed rabbit long past the age when he wanted his friends to know, so he would hide it when they came over, under the bed, but pulled it out at night when he needed it most.

Our hope lies not in remembering the big numbers: 309 mass shootings, 3,068 dead children, 48,428 total incidents of gun-related violence. Those numbers numb us. Our hearts are stirred by one. One woman. One man. One child.

God shows up in just that way, in the particular of the one. One young mother bearing one child. She had her quirks. Maybe it was a turn of phrase, or how she baked the bread or spun the wool. He could recognize her from behind, the way she walked. And she him. She knew what his breathing sounded like when he slept, when he was having a bad dream. She made his favorite foods and wove clothes to fit him as he grew. He felt comforted by the sound of her laugh and worried when he heard her cry.

The Son of God and the Mother of the Son, one and one. Just like you, just like me. 

God wants us to recognize Him in the One and in the one. Theologians call it the scandal of the particular. We can't love and care about humanity. We can love and care about another human, the one, our one. And when we can remember to do that, to love our one, maybe we can also remember that he's somebody's one, she's somebody's one. You are. I am.

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