The Tragedy of One

“We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the ‘unimaginable sum of human misery…’ There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.”         -C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”        -Matthew 2:18 (ESV)

In the aftermath of the tragic events at Pulse in Orlando, there has been something of an undercurrent of “dismay” at the labeling of the event as the “deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.” The majority of the debate has centered around the meaning of the term, “mass shooting.” For example, by one common definition, there have been “136 mass shootings in the first 164 days of this year.” By another count, there have been “178… since the early 1900’s.” Neither of these, however, include Wounded Knee, Rosewood, or St. Valentine’s, not to mention non-gun-related crimes or serial killers (does the temporal spacing lessen the degree?). How are we to determine which is/are worse?

Worst Mass Shootings

An example of a meme that has been circulating (I think the word “lies” in unnecessarily contentious)

The answer truly is: all of them. As a Christian, I can, with John Dickson, claim that “the violence of Christendom is dwarfed by that of non-religious causes,” but I must also remember that “one death in the name of Christ is a blasphemy” ( Sometimes amidst the quantity of lives lost, the individuality of each is missed; similarly, we often quantify evil itself in degrees. However, the more closely one identifies with those killed, the more tragic the event, regardless of the number.

“We will never forget.”

“We are Boston strong.”

“Remember the Alamo.”

In the aftermath of tragedy, we find strength and solace in solidarity. Unfortunately, this is sometimes at the expense of someone else’s healing. Is there any reason to place victims in an Orlando nightclub above (or below) those in a Charleston church, or the hold of a cargo ship steaming from Africa? Those who decry our lack of historical perspective are justified, but must mind their own, as well. The African American should not be chastised for his sorrow at the innumerable deaths (not to mention destroyed lives) caused by the slave trade, simply because six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. The woman with the tattoo on her arm is no less traumatized because Stalin was responsible for the deaths of seven million of his own people. There is no rationale for all of these to be silenced in the shadow of the forty-five million murdered in Mao’s Cultural Revolution/Great Leap Forward. Suffering is experienced individually, even where it is overcome through the support of many.

“As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the difference between zero and one is an infinity.”    –Timothy Snyder, The New York Review of Books

What has happened is that forty-nine people died on Sunday, June 12, 2016. They have names, they have families, they have stories. Some might not have been nice people, some may have been saints. I don’t know a single one of them, and so my “understanding” of the tragedy is at best empathetic. However, I don’t have to create a list of mass shootings in the U.S. to understand that parents lost children, children lost parents, others lost friends, family, and loves. The Lewis quote at the beginning could be amended (admittedly for a different purpose than originally intended) to add, “but also no less.” At the end of this post are forty-nine names – each of which is a life cut short, an impact to someone to whom they “were the whole world.” They deserve the dignity of remembrance, to be eulogized by tears at the world’s loss of their gifts.

Why do we need lists, ranking tragedies as if there could possibly be a consensus? Even time is an imperfect healer, leaving scars to be found across families, nations, and peoples; most of these are left on hearts. You cannot feel my wounds, and I cannot feel yours. However, it is because I have felt mine that I can offer you grace to heal yours in what ways you may. There will come a time to add Orlando to the grotesque list of inflicted pain, but there are some who are still calling the phones of those they know are gone, hoping against hope for an answer that will never come.Snip20160616_1

While we must hold (and pass on) the memory of what has happened, more important still is the responsibility to make the necessary changes to lessen the possibility going forward. (This is not a political point: my contention is that at the very bottom we will find a heart issue, and only the right surgery can have a lasting impact.) But we must be willing to weep with the afflicted, oppressed, and hopeless, even if their affliction, oppression, or hopelessness is foreign to our experience. Each of us is only one life, but a life that is intended to add glory, joy, peace, and love to a world that desperately needs it. The loss of the following children of God is an amputation of our future, and there is no greater or lesser impact because there were many, rather than just one:

  • Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
  • Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
  • Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
  • Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
  • Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old
  • Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
  • Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
  • Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
  • Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
  • Cory James Connell, 21 years old
  • Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
  • Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
  • Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
  • Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
  • Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
  • Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
  • Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
  • Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old
  • Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
  • Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
  • Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
  • Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
  • Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
  • Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
  • Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
  • Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
  • Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
  • Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
  • Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
  • Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old
  • Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
  • Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old
  • Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
  • Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
  • Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
  • Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
  • Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
  • Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
  • Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old
  • Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old
  • Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
  • Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
  • Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
  • Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
  • Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
  • Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
  • Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
  • Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
  • Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

“So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”    -John 16:22 (ESV)

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