By Kevin Anderson, Special Contributor…
On May 20, 1988, a mentally ill woman named Laurie Dann walked into Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Ill., armed with three handguns, shot one boy in a washroom and then entered my classroom. She opened fire on us, small children taking a test about bicycle safety. She killed one boy by the name of Nicholas Corwin and wounded four others before departing to a nearby home, shooting an adult who lived there and then taking her own life.
On that day, everyone in Winnetka was a victim, everyone in the nation was a victim, and the country stopped for a moment of silence.
Since that day, more people have entered the ranks of “survivor” of shooting incidents. And every time a public shooting happens, I am taken back to that day in 1988. It is there that my own story unites with all the new stories of violence and pain.
I am reminded of the Scripture about the death of Lazarus. Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus is sick. Jesus is not with the family, but on his way back to Bethany he hears the news that Lazarus has died. Mary and Martha are upset that Jesus was not there:
Then when Mary came where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” And some of them said, “Could not this Man, who opened the eyes of the blind, also have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:32-37)
Our shared history
On Friday morning, July 20, 2012, I woke up after returning home at 3:30 a.m. from the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises, and my wife shared the tragic news. At the same time I was in my screening of the Batman movie, in another midnight showing in Aurora, Colo., a man calling himself “the Joker” went into the crowded theater and shot and killed 12 people, wounding 58. I was deeply saddened at the news.
The ranks of victims in our country have grown again. We have entered into another chapter in our shared history of violence. Whether or not we were in a movie theater, at a mall, or under a classroom table during a shooting, we have all suffered. We are still grieving those we have lost and our shared stories and history connect in new ways as we grieve.
Our world has changed so much, and it is sad that we have to fear shootings when we go to the mall, a movie theater, the gas station, a college campus, an elementary school, and other places where acts of violence can occur. Where can we go to escape violence around us?
One of the hardest parts of this particular event is that the violence that occurred at the theater in Aurora mirrored the violence in the movie. Within the first few minutes of the movie we are introduced to one of the major villains, Bane, who is very smart, very calculating, and a cold-blooded killer who opens fire to serve his own goals—part of a calculated plan to bring more pain, death and destruction to a city full of innocent people. Bane represents the fear, terrorism, anger and violence that we try to counteract in our own lives. I cannot imagine how the director Christopher Nolan or the cast members are feeling after this horrific event. They created an important film with a social statement about rising in hope over the shadows of terror, loss, greed, corruption, poverty and so much more.
Superheroes and hope
Growing up as a survivor of a mass shooting, I needed heroes in my life. I became an avid reader of comic books—X-Men, the Avengers, Superman, Green Lantern, and of course Batman. The idea that a superhero could swoop in and save us in our darkest of moments helped me learn not to be afraid of the dark.
There is a reason Batman is called “the Dark Knight.” His origins are linked to a terrible tragedy. As a child, Bruce Wayne (Batman) saw his mother and father shot in front of him, in a dark alley after a night at the theater. Bruce grew up as a survivor of a terrible shooting. He decided that he would become a symbol for a city that needed a hero; as he states in Batman Begins, “I’m going to show the people of Gotham that the city doesn’t belong to the criminals and the corrupt. People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy. I can’t do this as Bruce Wayne. A man is just flesh and blood and can be ignored or destroyed. But as a symbol . . . as a symbol, I can be incorruptible, everlasting.”
The Dark Knight Rises shows us there is hope in the darkest of hours. We live in a world that needs a Batman, a “Dark Knight” to fight the darkness when it engulfs us. And while we are not always present in others’ times of tragedy, it does not mean we do not feel one another’s pain. As Jesus wept for Lazarus, we weep for each other.
In Psalm 130, the Psalmist cries out for God in the midst of darkness and fear:
Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. / Lord, hear my voice! / Let your ears be attentive / To the voice of my supplications. . . . / I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, / And in His word I do hope. / My soul waits for the Lord / More than those who watch for the morning; / Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.
Like the Psalmist, we too have been in places where we have cried out to God. We have waited for God to deliver us, and in that our shared story as a society is also a shared history of Grace. In the midst of tragedy and pain God calls us together as comfort for one another. God is there as well in the darkest of times, giving comfort and shedding tears of compassion. And as a country and world, we still come together to honor the fallen, engraving their names, bringing flowers, sharing stories of love and loss as one people.
In these times of darkness, we might wait as watchmen wait for the morning. In the morning, we rise from the ashes, from the pain, from our despair because we are not alone. And like any good superhero story, good always finds a way to break the darkest of nights and welcome the bright new morning.
My prayers are with all involved. May we rise to know hope.
Mr. Anderson is a United Methodist minister in the Virginia Conference. This essay first appeared in the online magazine, Busted Halo (http://bustedhalo.com). Reprinted with permission.