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.]

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.