Certain tragedies are so unbelievable, immediately soaking up the nation’s consciousness like a thirsty sponge, that they become synonymous with a community’s name. Think: Columbine. What’s the dividing line between those tragedies that steal a place’s name and those that fade into the nation’s memory as a localized sorrow?
The nearest small city to where I live—Kalamazoo, Michigan—endured two devastating experiences in 2016. On February 20, an Uber driver named Jason Dalton continued taking passengers in between random shootings that left six people dead and two injured. Then, on June 7, the driver of a pickup truck plowed into a group of nine bicyclists, killing five and seriously injuring the other four.
I don’t think Kalamazoo will become synonymous with either of these events, but then, my perspective is a bit more up close where I can see many details of daily life in that place beyond what makes national headlines. And yet, there’s another level of closeness occupied by the families of the victims of such violence, where the grief sticks not because of an abstract association from afar embedded in our brains by the 24-hour news cycle, but because the violence carved a living soul out of their lives. Dr. Susie Paulik Babka has written beautifully about moving in this space of grief, not just over the particular tragedy that took her father’s life in Kalamazoo but over the suffering we are all capable of causing:
We don’t often consider how our collective guilt extends the cruelty and division in the world. Perhaps the polarity between the secular and the sacred, and the unwillingness to be spiritually curious about our shared responsibility for violence, is why we blame the perpetrators of violence rather than ourselves. But we are all guilty of the failure to be compassionate.
I encourage you to head over to Huffington Post to read her essay in its entirety, which beckons us all to be better than we are.