The Uncommon Common
And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, CEB Translation)
Which mass shootings impact me the most?
The fact that I can ask that question should give us all pause. It implies first that some don’t impact me as much, and that is true. There are so many of them. Some do not register with me at all. Part of that is protective. As a school shooting survivor, I admit I bury my head in the sand because I just can’t. I just can’t keep digging in old wounds all the time.
But some of them do make their way through, and they sink me in grief and depression for a while. Or in anger. Or both. I have determined, over the past 19 years, which ones make it through my shield. First, any shooting that is so egregious (shouldn’t they all be egregious?) that everyone is talking about it. Second, any shooting in which children are the primary victims. The last category includes any shooting in which details are released that resonate with my own life.
So Dayton will not hit my radar. El Paso has.
Why has El Paso registered with me? The shooter attended Collin College. I taught at Collin College. Also the shooting took place primarily at Walmart, and I worked in a Walmart for a couple years. That’s it. That’s all I need in common with details of a shooting for it to injure me again.
And in that darkness, I look around to see who else I can see. I look for the people with whom I have something in common. I look for the survivors. And every time I look, that crowd gets larger and larger. 19 years ago, when I became a survivor, it was uncommon. When do the numbers tip? When do we move from an uncommon identity to a common one?
It is hard to answer that question, because no one is counting us. We are becoming a large community, but we are a community isolated from one another. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know where we are. We stumble around in the dark. And yet we are connected around a common experience of surviving such random, inexplicable violence.
I have a kinship with these people that I have never met. They are the family I don’t know. And they are the family I wish was shrinking, but it is not.
So this morning, laying in bed and feeling the fear of being lost and alone and under threat again, I wanted to be only with that community. How could I do that? By staying in bed. By succumbing to the sadness. By giving in to the pain and loss. Allowing the fear to overwhelm me and paralyze me again. I knew they would know what I was feeling. No matter how optimistic we can be, no matter how hopeful, we all have that dark night of the soul. All survivors, no matter how much we beat it back and keep going, we all have our moments when we sink. It is what is common to us in this experience.
Now here is the deep irony. Had I stayed in bed, I would have missed church. I would have missed communion. And honestly, if not for my love for God, I would have been just fine with that.
Because when I go to church, I do not feel the kinship of community. Sure we have common experiences. But we have been going to the same church for just over a year now, and with the exception of the pastors, absolutely no one in the church would notice I was not there. No one. Do you how lonely it is to sit by people, week after week, in the same pew (because we know not to sit anywhere else), and no one even notices? We are commonly there. And yet we may as well be uncommon. We are certainly unknown.
I did get up and go to church. I sat next to people I sit next to every week. Not one of them, except the people who came in the same car as me and the pastor who presided over communion, know I am a survivor. So no one knew to check on me. This community has left me to wither and die on the vine. They have left me feeling like I have more in common with people in bed suffering from depression than with people who have hope in resurrection.
Every week we count the number of people in church. We don’t count the number of people who survive shootings. I do know this, though. Every week one of those numbers grows smaller, and practically every week one of those numbers grows larger. I can’t help but think they are related. If more of us felt like there was a community who extended God’s love, who noticed when fear was overwhelming our hearts, who encouraged us to walk in light rather than in darkness, then this other growing community would start to shrink again.
And maybe then, that which should be uncommon would not be so common anymore.