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.

a bigger picture – a better question

Wednesday, 7 November, 2012:

I’m not a political activist, pundit, or powerhouse. That’s why after voting yesterday, I wrote that the precious freedom to vote is of less significance than the precious truth that we are human.

This morning, 51.5% of voters are euphoric (to varying degrees) and 48.5% are despondent (on various levels) based solely on their personal answer to this single question:

Who did you vote for?

Several hours ago, the political map of our country looked like this:

2012 Electoral Map – 11.07.12

For entirely non-political reasons, I hate this map. Everything about it screams division and dissent. The non-United States of America.

I prefer this map:

United States

A person has to really scrunch up their eyes to pinpoint “my” place. The color scheme has an artistic air about it. The division lines are faint, more like the marks on a master blueprint than the “cut” lines on a butcher diagram.

This map is even better:

This one is better yet:

And this is the best of all:


I vote because I can. Because I have been given that right.  Because voting matters – on a temporal level, that is.

But I am not a pinpoint on a blue/red electoral map, defined primarily by my political leanings or judged by my voting record.

I am, rather, a pinpoint in a vast, immeasurable universe. I breathe because I live. I have been granted that miracle. Pinpoints matter – in spite of their smallness – solely because they are defined by their imago Dei and judged by undeserved grace.

The real question (for today) is not Who did you vote for?

The real question (for beyond days) is Who do you live for?

We, the people

Tuesday, 6 November, 2012:

Four years ago, I drove six miles south and voted on the campus of a sprawling Big Ten university. Walked past blocks of election signs, banners, and posters. Entered a stately building of architectural interest. Stood on marble floors between panelled walls. Waited in line for over three hours, along with hundreds of other Americans, mostly of the academic intellectual demographic. Listened to students discuss the meaning of life, unfair grading policies, and next weekend’s hottest parties. Listened to faculty analyze the economy, current social policy, and various threats to higher education. Voted my conscience. Went back to work.

Today I drove three miles east and voted in the city buildings of a small town. Walked past this single cardboard sign on the dew-dropped lawn.

Photo: CKirgiss

Entered the built-for-a-practical-purpose fire station.

Photo: CKirgiss

Stood on concrete floors alongside an impressive fire truck. Waited in line for eight minutes, along with 14 other Americans, mostly of the small-town senior-citizen demographic. (Lots of seed company logos blazened across the jackets. And the hats.) Listened to women  discuss dropping temperatures, holiday plans, and next weekend’s church pot-luck. Listened to men analyze harvest yields, fuel prices, and various threats to local farming. Voted my conscience. Went back to work.

I live on the border of two worlds. Two disparate worlds. Two vibrant worlds. Two worlds that, for all their quirky distinctions, are inhabited by fellow Americans – “socially constructed identities of gender and class” in the first; “neighbors” in the second – each and every one uniquely privileged to vote their individual conscience for what they sincerely believe to be the collective good.

I’m not a card-carryiing flag-waver. But today I remember why I am proud (and grateful) to be an American. Not primarily because of the political and pragmatic republic it represents, but because of the breathtaking and beloved humanity it embraces.

It’s really quite something indeed.

Photo: CKirgiss

Eleven years later…

I wrote these words 11 years ago, but could have written them yesterday – not just about the events of that day, but about all of life when it is lived outside of God’s immeasurable, forgiving, majestic, jealous love. (Please silence your outcry for that last element. God’s jealousy is not humanly petty. It is gloriously divine. It is for us…all of us, and nothing could be more breathtakingly astounding) .


Regarding September 11…
I have a thousand questions I want answered.
I have a thousand fears I want quelled.
I have a thousand thoughts I want sorted out.
I have a thousand concerns I want soothed.
I have a thousand things I want changed.
I have a thousand people I want saved.
I have a thousand places I want seen.
I have a thousand songs I want sung.
I have a thousand steps I want walked.
I have a thousand prayers I want uttered.
I have a thousand bridges I want crossed.
I have a thousand roads I want traveled.
I have a thousand books I want read.
I have a thousand poems I want whispered.
I have a thousand birds I want freed.
I have a thousand trees I want honored.
I have a thousand skies I want admired.
I have a thousand oceans I want remembered.
I have a thousand eyes I want dried.
I have a thousand ears I want opened.
I have a thousand voices I want heard.
I have a thousand wrongs I want forgiven.
I have a thousand mountains I want climbed.
I have a thousand stars I want named.
I have a thousand lives I want lived.
I have a thousand fields I want sown.
I have a thousand rivers I want blessed.
I have a thousand children I want born.
I have a thousand sorrows I want healed.
I have a thousand days I want begun.
I have a thousand years I want danced.
I have a thousand clouds I want explored.

But I have only one God, who is true from the highest depths to the lowest valleys, from the farthest east to the farthest west, and from the beginning of always to the end of never.

The god for whom people were willing to die last Tuesday is no god at all.

The true God does not say, “Die for me.” He says, “I’ve died for you.”

The true God does not say, “Hate others.” He says, “Love others…as much as you love yourself.”

The true God does not say, “Crucify the enemy.” He says, “Crucify your heart so I can create in you a new one.”

Would that the entire world could live in the contented peace of such simple truth as this.

copyright 2001 Crystal Kirgiss

Reflections from the North Rim


I am sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, ever so slightly off the marked path. Off to the right, two people are perched at the very tip of a major outcropping, posing (I suppose) for a Christmas e-letter photo. I worry that if either of them so much as sneezes or blinks or breathes, they will go tumbling over the edge; there go all my hopes of sweet dreams for the next several weeks.

Just behind me, a young family is making the trek out to Angel Point with their 2- and 4-year old sons in tow. And I do mean in tow. Except at just a few outermost spots, there are no safety rails or guards here. The only thing between you and the bottom of the canyon is a few inches of pathway and several thousand vertical feet. I briefly looked into the eyes of that mother as she wrangled with her adventurous 2-year old. She wants to go home. She wants to take a nap. She wants to strap her children into cushioned chairs and plant them in front of an electronic device. I don’t fault her for this. She is probably a wonderful mother who spends time doing creative and educational things with her children; who lets them run and jump and play and climb trees; who reads to them each night from the pages of classic literature. But this is the North Rim and there is no space for a wildly alive 2-year old to do anything except get dragged and pulled and contained and restrained by a wildly protective parent. There go all her hopes of sweet dreams for the next several weeks.

I am here without children and so am free to be still and quiet at the edge of the Canyon for as long as I want. So here I am, settled under the cool shade of God’s wings woven into the very being of a tree whose branches spread over me like a fringed embrace even while their needle-tips seem to kiss and caress the canyon wall miles away. I am overlooking a landscape whose majesty contains and reflects the very thumbprint of God Himself, but whose expanse can’t even begin to contain and reflect more than a mere thumbprint of God’s own majesty.

My North Rim stillness and quietness has shown me this:

It is impossible to fully take in (let alone fully describe) the immensity and grandeur spread out before me. Even with photographs. Perhaps especially with photographs. Trying to transfer and contain such colorful and variant and immeasurable depth, width, height, and length onto a two-dimensional surface – no matter how large – is futile. (Perhaps this explains in part previous generations’ universal dread of Other People’s Vacation Slide Shows, those drily-narrated and flattened-out Kodak Ektachrome versions of three-dimensional miracles that were powerfully spoken into existence.) (Which, in turn, might explain the genius of social media photo albums, those drily-captioned and flattened-out Instagrammed versions of life that are entirely optional for viewing.)

And also this:

I am small. Very small. A speck, in fact. I know this in my soul – for I am but one of trillions – even as I can see it with my eyes – for my outstretched hand (just inches away) is but a dot on the canyon wall backdrop (miles and miles away). I am but dust, the unmeasurable (because of my smallness) surrounded by the immeasurable (because of its magnitude).

When I consider the sight before and beside and below and around me (which is but a grain of sand among the Lord’s creation), I am left breathless. I am undone. Entirely.

Because of this:

God knows I am here. Knows my name. Knows me. And even still considers my unmeasurableness worth a full measure of His love and grace.

And this:

Inside this small speck of my unmeasurable self resides all the fullness, not of the immeasurable creation before and beside and below and around me, but of Christ Himself…the very creator of the immeasurable creation that is before and beside and below and around me. (Or at least as much of His fullness as I make room for by emptying myself of self, a daunting task indeed.)

What manner of mystery and miracle is this? That the Creator of the Cosmos – the only true God – not only reduced His own self to a fully human speck (so that we could be saved), but even further, compressed his own spirit to dwell within fully fallen, flawed, broken, and small specks of dust (so that we could know real life)…?!