September 24, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Thought and Prayers

Seeking the Good 3 Dec 2015

We are all rocked again by a mass shooting. Sadly, for me, the blood had not yet been wiped off the floor and virtually nothing was known about the attackers when political gain was to be sought on the gun violence debate. I found it profoundly unseemly.

If we can imagine politicians and pundits showing a bit of restraint before they hitch their agenda to the tragedy of others, what is there to say?

“Thoughts and Prayers.”  While driving on Thursday, I tuned in to KPCC to hear a bit of the Larry Mantle Show “AirTalk”.  He was interviewing clergy on this idea of offering “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families. There had been some rather bitter criticism of the phrase expressed in social media, criticism that was also posted on the AirTalk page – ” “Thoughts and Prayers” does nothing and means nothing!”  “God has nothing to do with it!”, one person angrily posted.

The clergy being interviewed unpacked the phrase a bit. “Prayers”, it was explained, does not mean petitioning God, that God would not allow such things to happen, as a way of not taking action (what specific action there is to be taken that would have prevented this tragedy was not specified). The prayers are not petitions for God to prevent these events, but are rather for the souls of those who were murdered, and for God to console the hearts of the families. I thought this explanation was quite touching and beautiful.

I believe that the “Thoughts” part of the phrase actually contains the essence of the sentiment. I don't think there is a way of expressing concern for our fellow in such an awful moment without sounding banal. When I first read of the details, I was sickened. I can imagine being caught in a room, defenseless, with ruthless murderers on the rampage. I can imagine the last seconds of the life of an innocent person knowing they will never see their loved ones again, and never complete their work, and their knowing the heartbreak of their families. I feel sorrow and grief for the victims. I feel myself filled with deep hatred of the shooters. I feel sorrow, heartbreak, empathy and hatred. I feel helpless. I don't know what to say.

Yes, my thoughts are with the victims and their families, and my hatred is cast toward the shooters. And I also feel deep gratitude and appreciation for the responders:  they go toward the gunfire, not away from it. They know that perhaps they are facing their last moments on earth. They chose to be in this situation, for us.

Because of the nature of how the news is passed, there is an instant of solidarity. As a nation, and beyond our borders, we all feel, I believe, some mixture of the sorrow and horror for the victims, and maybe the gratitude for the responders and hatred for the perpetrators, as well. We feel, as a nation that has become a community in a moment, probably just for a moment, a common bond of deep care and concern, of grief and loss. (I think my feeling of this instinctive national coming together in grief and compassion is why I dislike so much the shallow political gain being sought. For a moment, we are one. Why divide us, right now?)

“Thoughts and Prayers” does not name well this national horror and sorrow. Any phrase that we come up with that is repeated over and over again will end up sounding hackneyed. Perhaps that is what is behind the complaining about “Thoughts and Prayers.”  It sounds like a slogan, the kind of thing that a person says who can't think for a moment of something genuine to say.

But my thoughts are with victims of this horrible tragedy. Thoughts of horror, and sorrow, and grief, and heartbreak. I do pray for the souls of the victims. I think when we die suddenly our souls are in shock from being released from our bodies so violently. I think our personalities stay somewhat intact for some brief period after we die, and our souls can feel the deep grief for the loved ones we leave behind, and deep loss about our lives so suddenly abruptly cut off. I pray for the peace of their souls.

I think of this conversation, one American to another.  “I feel horrible about this, heartbroken.” “Me, too. Their poor families. I feel I really hate those shooters.”  “Me, too. I wish there was something I could do.”  “Me, too. Maybe there will be some kind of fund to help the families. I will keep my eye out.”

And then when somebody comes up and talks about the danger of Syrian refugees or more gun control, they say together, “Can you give that stuff a break until the families have buried their dead?”

There is a time to mourn, and a time to politic. This is a time to mourn.

My thoughts and prayers are.