In the aftermath of the terrible shootings in Tucson, Arizona, it seems we all are struggling with how to respond. There has been the usual rush to try finding an answer to our “Why?” questions, and there has been an equal rush to play the “blame game” and figure out what went wrong. I have heard commentators and conversations blame everyone from Sarah Palin, to our loose gun laws in the U.S., to political rhetoric, to the lack of security for public officials. Now that the alleged shooter is in jail, of course, people are trying to figure out what went wrong with him: was it his upbringing, should someone have noticed earlier his problems, and why is he smirking in his court appearance?

My experience with tragedy is that this rush to blame or to find answers is a futile, yet normal part of the grief process. No easy answers will come, and our frustration with that fact only compounds the hurt.

I will offer these reminders about dealing with tragedy:

  1. Words can hurt and words can heal, so we all need to be careful how we use words. In these days of face-paced technology, where the texting and e-mailing of our words comes easily, it is also easy to forget that our words have power – power to hurt or heal. Words once spoken, or e-mailed, or texted cannot be withdrawn. As my mother used to say, “Choose your words wisely.” 
  2. Grief and healing are a slow process, and when we try to rush that process we tend to make the pain worse. It is OK to feel the sadness and grief for the tragedy in Tucson, or any other tragedies, and there is not right way to work through such grief. Give it time.
  3. Violence begets violence. Our U.S. culture is a violent culture, and we all bear responsibility for allowing this increase in violence. Over the weekend, both before and after the report of the Tucson tragedy, I noted the use of violent imagery in the various sports contests, in the political rhetoric, and even in the weather reports. Violence, video games about violence, and violent language pervade our culture – and we all get swept up in that culture of violence. Surely we who follow the Prince of Peace must set a different example and speak words of peace, take actions for peace, and call for peaceful resolutions.
  4. This tragedy was perpetrated by a single person whose motives and psychological imbalances may never be fully understood. It does not help to take upon ourselves the guilt of his actions, and it does not help to try to lay that guilt upon others. He did this unspeakable act. Feeling guilty about it or placing guilt upon others does not help – but it is a natural part of our grieving. A part of our healing is to let go of that guilt.
  5. Our ultimate healing from such hurts comes through the power of forgiveness. This weekend I saw a sports program about the umpire who made the wrong call and cost a pitcher a “perfect game” this past summer. It was an amazing story of the umpire dealing with his own hurt for making a wrong call, with his public admission of his mistake, and the wonderful response of the young pitcher who accepted his apology, hugged him, and said, “We all are human.” Forgiveness – especially from the one who was wronged – is a greater power than the power of hurt or violence. Forgiveness enables us to move from being a “victim” to becoming a “survivor.” 

I write this e-pistle knowing that tragedies will continue to occur – sometimes from “natural” tragedies like the earthquake in Haiti a year ago, and sometimes tragedies from terrible human actions. Tragedy will always be a part of our life. How we respond and deal with that kind of tragedy is a real test of our faith and our desire for healing and peace. I pray that my life and my words can help with the healing we all need.