This has been a traumatic week in the life of our community. Before I spend time giving some of my deeper thoughts, this was my experience of the first 30 hours:
Monday, in the middle of one of the neighborhood’s soup kitchen, a passing car unloaded dozens of bullets towards a group of folks on the corner where that meal was happening.
While the media (and if we are honest, all of us) likes to categorize people in these situations to find out who had gang ties and who was homeless and who was an innocent bystander – all I will say is 5 men were shot – one in the head.
I came upon the scene within a minute or two of it happening. I saw one of my friends jumping in horror, looking down at his friend, shot in the head – lifeless on the ground.
I saw another friend, kneeling down, comforting another victim writhing in pain as he suffered several shots. I saw cops rush on the scene, and wondered what on earth my role was. I searched the faces, desperately not wanting to see the images in front of me, but trying to see if there was a friend whom I could help. I saw none, so I moved to the edge, allowing space for the ambulances as they arrived. I stood in shock as I saw so many traumatized friends, we hugged, we looked on in horror. One friend kept screaming: “I saw the whole thing! I saw the whole thing!”
Children were gathered around, cell phones were pointed at the scene, fights were breaking out between police and friends of the victims. Horrible obscenities were exchanged. Men laid in pooling blood.
Absolute chaos. Horror and chaos.
After about 15 minutes, I knew I needed to go home. I didn’t feel capable of giving anything. I needed to get air.
As I went home, my housemates were all gone, so I sat on the curb with my friend Cheryl. She was chatting a bit about funny things, then asked if I was ok. I told her I needed a friend. Then I told her what I’d seen.
Cheryl and several others let me sit with them as they joked, cut up, acted out and passed a joint. I let silent tears fall as I rested in their company – so grateful for the refuge of neighbors who have all suffered greatly and knew well the throws of trauma. (It was less than two years ago that I visited Cheryl after she’d been stabbed 4 times in her own room across the street from me. I was there for her then, she was there for me now.)
Then a text came – an invitation to dinner down the street – a block from the shooting site. #UptownRoger’s parents – Tye and Kali – invited me to share dinner with them and process. They’d heard the shots and seen images on a cell phone of a stranger passing by in disbelief. Together we talked about our decisions to live in this neighborhood and love our neighbors. We processed the cost of that and the realities we were facing. It was the Body in motion.
Then came a phone call. It was Anthony. “Sher, there’s been a shooting.” “I know Anthony, are you ok?!” “Well, I’m in the hospital. It’s my hand.”
It was just a small wound on the outside accompanied by high blood pressure, but it will take more than blood pressure medicine to bind up the wounds Anthony (and many others) are suffering on the inside.
I prayed with Anthony then, and was able to touch base with him again before bed. The next morning we sat on the porch, drank coffee and I listened to what my friend had experienced.
Later that day, while Anthony was napping back at his apartment, I saw a news truck and went to investigate. Soon they walked into Anthony’s apartment where I knew he did not want to be disturbed. He’d shooed away reporters earlier in the morning and told me his thoughts on it. “I don’t want to be bothered!” He told me.
So when I saw the news crew exiting with Anthony in toe, I made a b-line to him. “Hey there, you didn’t answer my calls!” “Oh, I was napping….” Then, in a low voice I say; “Anthony, you don’t have to do this, you know?” And he looked at me. “Yeah… I know….” “Do you want to?” “Well…. to be honest….. not really….” “Well bud, you can just come home with me right now. You don’t have to do this.”
Eventually Anthony was able to convince the reporter he did not want to be the next you-tube auto-tune sensation and we went home. My housemate Brian played piano and we closed our eyes for a little bit before we met with some others to pray across the street from the shooting site.
On our walk home, I saw one of my friends who I’d seen at the site, as he waited with others for another soup kitchen to open it’s doors. I approached him with a sincere; “how are you?” “Oh, I’m ok you know.” “I saw you yesterday. I saw you and was praying for you last night. I can’t imagine what you’ve experienced.” He could tell I really did see him – physically and humanly. “Have you been able to talk to anyone?” I ask. “Sure, I’ve talked about it a lot, but I haven’t talked about how I feel or what I experienced, ya know.” For the next ten minutes this young man shared details of his experience he’d kept bottled up. I asked him how he’d slept, and he admitted not well. I told him I’d specifically been praying for his rest the night before and would continue. Before I went home he reached to hug me and thanked me several times. I told him he could ring the bell any time, day or night, if he needed to talk.
A few hours later, as the dust finally began to settle, in the privacy of my apartment, the damn broke, and I wept in a way I have only wept in cases of tremendous loss in my life. I wept in a way that left me out of control – noises exiting my body that scared me. Emotion was rocking me to my core and forcing its way out. No amount of logic or self-talk had any impact – so I let my mind quiet as my body grieved.
I realized, that while shootings happen frequently in this neighborhood and constantly around this city, this shooting was different. The proximity to actual friends of mine – the proximity to my own community rhythms (I frequent this Monday night meal) – the trauma of seeing gun shot victims – especially a head trauma – in broad daylight, unable to protect children or friends from the images – All of these and much more made this shooting different.
As the wailing continued, my mind tried to keep itself busy understanding my emotions – if I couldn’t control myself, at least I could try to understand myself. What I discovered was, the reality that pushed my emotional reservoir into release mode was how this experience will impact the relationships closest to me – particularly, my family. As I mourned for my community, I also grieved the loss of ideal relationship that I so desire to enjoy with family and friends I have loved throughout my life. As I wept, I wondered if this is what it means when Jesus talked about hating our families? Yes, He actually said that:
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Ironically, Jesus says this RIGHT AFTER he tells the story about throwing a banquet for the crippled, poor beggars instead of your friends and family. That’s one of my favorite things Jesus says. This, hate your family stuff, not so much.
I don’t think Jesus is telling us we have to harbor ill feelings towards those we love – that wouldn’t make any sense. What I believe Jesus is saying is – we need to be free of attachments – even to ourselves. We need to be so submitted to Him that no matter who might turn their backs on us or just encourage us to follow the lives they’ve chosen, we will not falter in our commitments to him.
By choosing to live in proximity to such horrific violence on top of the constant human suffering and poverty, I will have to accept a less than desired relationship with people that I love and have been important to me throughout life. Granted, I have already experienced the abundance of new relationships that have substituted as family and close friends. I know God is faithful to fill the voids. Yet – I think grieving our losses is good.
After I got a little bit of control, I was blessed to end my night with an over 2 hour phone call with my mother and father (whom, while I might “hate” as Jesus instructed, I am blessed to have an unending stream of support and love from). Their prayers for me and this community are daily – sometimes moment by moment – and are a tremendous source of stability. I can only image how hard they must struggle to continue to give their daughter back to the Lord at these times. I am so glad they do.
I’ve got more to share. This experience has taught me much. I wanted to get the actual experience out first – as I know many have been praying and empathizing with us. Thank you for the calls, texts, emails, facebook messages and outpouring of prayer and love. Thank you for mourning with us.