Purdue, Day Three: the hard realities of death and life

Purdue Memorial Mall, Day Three (Photo: CKirgiss)
Purdue Memorial Mall, Day Three 1-23-2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

It was sunny today at Purdue. Sunny and snowy. Sunny and snowy and freezing. Sunny and snowy and freezing and beautiful. Which is to say, it was a day pretty much like every other wintry day on campus the past two weeks.

Except that it wasn’t,

because two days ago, Tuesday, January 21, 2014, someone was killed here. Most people know this already. The world is like that these days – something happens one minute and the world knows the next. And the world graciously and kindly and sincerely mourns and aches and supports from both near and far, until another tragedy strikes, which it will, because that is the kind of world we live in.

Things are quite back to normal here today for many people. On the surface, at least. It’s not always easy to know what’s going on underneath the surface, in the private corners of peoples’ minds, in the silent spaces of peoples’ souls. Sometimes we are not aware of those things even in our own selves because those private corners and silent spaces can be daunting, overwhelming, and (we might think) better left alone. Who has time to ask those questions? To face those fears? To navigate those emotions? Worse yet, what if there are no questions to ask, no fears to face, and no emotions to navigate?

I fear that on this Day Three of what has been called The Purdue University Shooting Tragedy – because we must have a way to refer to it – too many private corners of peoples’ minds and silent spaces of peoples’ souls will be left undisturbed, pushed aside because of busyness, or fear, or nonchalance, or something else entirely.

And that would make what happened just two short days ago doubly tragic.

It would surely be a mistake to contrive meaningless questions, conjure false fears, and navigate non-existent emotions just for the sake of being able to discuss one’s “personal grief process” or one’s “difficult emotional journey.” After all, not everyone has questions or fears or tangled emotions surrounding what happened here two days ago.

And that is absolutely fine. It really is. It is not a direct measure of one’s compassion or empathy or humanity.

But everyone, absolutely everyone, should know without a shadow of a doubt that what happened here on Tuesday was indeed a tragedy. Not because it happened at Purdue. Not because some of us were in the vicinity. Not because some of us were directly affected. Not even because some of us knew the people involved.

What happened here on Tuesday was a tragedy simply because it happened at all. Every single time a life is taken, regardless or where or when or why, it is a tragedy of unspeakable magnitude.

Every single time –

because life is inherently miraculous. Mysterious. Amazing. Wondrous. Breathtaking. Sacred.

If it were not, there would be no reason to mourn what happened here just two days ago.

If life matters, then certainly we must mourn its loss. (And oh my gracious, I cannot begin to imagine what that mourning and loss looks like for families, those who love longest and deepest.)

But more importantly:

If life matters, we must live out that reality each and every moment of each and every day with each and every person. Period.

If we do not, then how dare we presume to mourn a lost life? How dare we presume to struggle with death’s sorrow? How dare we band together in a show of support and solidarity for a life cut short?

Someone I greatly admire said today, through heartbreakingly wrenching tears, “I feel as though I have lost a child.” We should all feel that way — not because this is about us or how we feel, not because our sadness is what really matters, and certainly not because we are in a position to understand the pain of those who in reality did lose a child — but rather because a life was taken. And when a life is taken, we all lose something.

Please: in the normalcy that defines so many Third Days such as these, do not fail to stop, to think, to contemplate, to listen, to reflect, to consider the reality of what has happened. Do not make this tragedy worse than it already is by missing the indescribable magnitude and significance of a single lost life. And do not make this tragedy worse than it already is by failing to pay close attention and learning something.

For we all have much to learn. Not just about death, but also about life.

The only thing that really matters this year

January the first has passed, which means that approximately 99.9% of the resolutionary-minded demographic has already called it quits.

Calling it quits is so terribly easy to do. It requires nothing of a person except, you know, quitting, stopping, and giving up –unless the thing being quit is something one habitually does, in which case calling it quits requires nothing of a person except, you know, carrying on, maintaining the status quo, and not quitting.

I’ve called it quits enough to know that I hate being a quitter. It causes my soul to feel empty, my spirit to feel abandoned, and my selfhood to feel compromised.

But as surely as I was born a sinner, I was born a quitter – which sounds so sadly pathetic when it’s put into words that I’m tempted to stop writing right now, to crawl back into bed, and to (sigh) call it quits.

And that’s exactly what I probably would do if it weren’t for Jesus —

  • sinless Jesus who refused to quit a task that was beyond absurd, i.e. redeeming the lives of each and every sinful quitter that ever did walk on this earth —
  • loving Jesus who refused to give up on the least deserving and the most pitiable of us, i.e. each and every human being
  • selfless Jesus who willingly abandoned his rights and privileges for countless individual reasons, i.e. you… and you… and you…and you…and me.

Too many Christians think that the opposite of quitting is doing, accomplishing, being active, living busy. We are often expert (and frenetic) doers. To be sure, it is supremely important to be more than simply hearers of the law. The proof, says Jesus, is in the doing.

But the saving is not in the doing. The value is not in the doing. The being is not in the doing.

By all means, do. Often, it’s exactly what’s needed.

But doing isn’t the goal. Nor is it the antidote to quitting. For that, we need something more. Something bigger. Something bolder.

For that, we need finishing.

On the seventh day of creation, God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all of it. He stopped working — which might look the same as quitting but in fact is sacred stillness.

One day during his public ministry, Jesus finished teaching the people, so he returned to the quiet countryside. He stopped being with people — which might look the same as standoffishness but in fact is sacred solitude.

In the ninth hour of his crucifixion day, Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” and hung his head upon his chest. He stopped breathing earthly air — which might look the same as death but in fact is eternal life.

Because of all that, today we can be certain that God, who has begun his good work within us, will continue that work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns — which might look entirely impossible (being the sorry sinners we all are) but in fact is the blessed assurance upon which we build our lives.

For as long as I walk on this earth, I will wage battle against being a self-deprecating quitter just as much as I will wage battle against being an over-zealous doer. In the end, they are equally empty and destructive.

This year, we would all be wise to confess the quitting, admit the over-doing, and stop obsessing about both. Ditch the resolutions and instead, ask God for a gracious portion of wisdom, strength, and humility as he transforms us into people who finish the race set before us.