The truth about Purdue’s shooting tragedy [one year later]

Exactly one year ago, things changed at Purdue University. Today, I wonder just how lasting that change really was. Do people still remember? Do they still mourn? Does the shocking reality of what happened on January 21, 2014 still run as high, long, wide, and deep as it did in those first days? For a few, no doubt yes. For most, assuredly no. The daily realities of life have settled into the space where the shock once was. That’s to be expected. Else how would life carry on?

But there is one reality that must not be forgotten – one reality that can begin to make sense of last year’s pain – one reality running so much higher and longer and wider and deeper than any other that we dare not forget it. (The following post was first published January 21, 2014.)

Purdue Memorial Mall, 1-21-2014 (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.

At 11:00 a.m. when I walked across Memorial Mall, I was struck by the peaceful stillness. By some footprints in the snow. By a brilliant sky. By the hushed atmosphere. Even on this typically busy, bustling day at a Big 10 campus, there was a measurable sense of calm and comfort. Things were much as they should be.

Except that they weren’t.

At noon when I walked back across Memorial Mall, nothing had changed. Not visibly, anyway. There were the footprints. There was the brilliant sky. There was the hushed atmosphere. There was the sense of peaceful stillness amidst the busy, bustling crowd.

And then, ripping through the stillness, slashing through the peace, there was an emergency siren. Screeching. Wailing. Shrieking. On and on and on and on. And the unexpected text message: “Shooting reported on campus. Bldg Electrical Engineering; Avoid area; Shelter in place.”

What place is this? Where am I? Have I stepped into another time and place? Because, you see, these things do not happen here. In other places, perhaps. But not here.

Except when they do.

It has been a devastating day. Someone’s son has died. Someone else’s son has killed. Both families are forever changed. It is one more bitter reminder that we live in a very broken world (all of it), among very broken people (all of us).

That’s right – all of us. We are all broken. Entirely, very, thoroughly, quite broken. That truth manifests itself in different ways, to different degrees, and not just in the midst of tragedy. It is a truth easier to ignore than acknowledge, easier to deny than accept, easier to protest than admit. Nonetheless, we are all – each and every one of us – in need of a Savior who loves, forgives, and transforms broken people.

Which he does.

The sun shone brightly today on a very dark and desperate place. Can you see it there, powerful and radiant?

Electrical Engineering Building, Purdue University, 1-21-2014 (Photo: CKirgiss)

And tonight, the light of thousands shone brightly on a very sad and wounded place. Can you see it there, brave and hopeful?

Candlelight Vigil, Purdue University, 2-21-2014 (Photo: Reddit User 8bitremixguy,

Both lights – sun by day and candle by night – are glorious, comforting, indescribably beautiful.

But they are nothing – absolutely nothing – when compared to the one light that really matters, the one light that is truth, the one light that is life, the one light that is love, the one light that is hope, the one light that saves.

“I am the light of the world.” The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not – and will not ever – overcome it.

Oh, sweet Jesus – we need your love, your compassion, your grace, your humility. Mostly, we need You. Each and every day. Today (and every other day, in truth) is a fresh reminder of this.

[My continued thoughts, written on the third day – January 23, 2014 – are here.]