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i refuse to become numb

04/22/2021 09:29:24 AM

Apr22

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

How does one not become numb when learning of another mass shooting? What words of consolation can I offer that do not appear insincere or trite? Why is it that the most famous product “Made in America” is the mass shooting, with nearly 130 taking place since January 1 of this year?

While I do not know if your response to a mass shooting differs from mine, as a survivor of one, I would suppose that it might. Each shooting brings me back in some way to 10.27, which is why I try not to watch the news, as it can retraumatize me. Mental health professionals call it “compound trauma”, the layering of trauma upon trauma. My instincts tell me that is not a good thing, thus my aversion to the television news. I keep informed in other ways, and that is bad enough.

Just to cite an example, after the shooting at the FedEx Distribution Center in Indianapolis on Thursday evening, I chanced upon a photograph in the newspaper. It was of families seated at round tables in a room at a hotel, awaiting news of their loved ones. In a flash I was brought back to 10.27, sitting at tables at the JCC, being encouraged by people to eat when I was just not hungry, trying to decide if I should just go home to my own family, whom I had not yet seen. The pastoral component in me took over, and I remained to offer whatever words of comfort I might be able to do. I sensed that everyone in the room, despite the lack of any information, knew the answer to the unvoiced question: Is my loved one alive?

While I certainly understood and respected the communication from the Medical Examiner’s office in that proper procedures had to be followed, families just needed to know. They could not return home that evening, most likely not sleep, and then return to the Medical Examiner’s office the following morning. The raw emotions in the room were certainly conveyed to his office, and the Medical Examiner came to the JCC that evening to deliver the news that each family feared was true. One family at a time was escorted to a nearby room, and I accompanied the families that were members of the Tree of Life. We sat there holding each other as we awaited the news we did not want to hear. After what might seem like an interminable period of time, each family stumbled out of the room, and the next family entered as the process was repeated for me for seven victims. All of this from one photograph.

Where is the leadership to take the bold and creative steps necessary to ensure the safety of all Americans? Where are the moral prophets of today clamoring for justice for all? I had hoped that after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012, when twenty first-graders and six teachers were slaughtered, that change would occur. It did not. When a gunman slaughtered fourteen students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018, I hoped that change would occur. It did not. My question is not rhetorical: What horrific event will it take for change to occur?

When I’m troubled, I turn to the Psalms as my source of comfort, something the Jewish people have done throughout history. The day when I was able to find the words to pray to God again after 10.27, I began with Psalm 121. It is not a part of the daily liturgy, but I found, and continue to find, that it became a part of my daily morning routine, as I seek God’s Divine guidance. I wept this morning as I began my daily ritual: I lift up my eyes to the heavens; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from God, maker of the heavens and the earth. God, don’t just help me. Help our country. Inspire the right people whom we have empowered to lead us to do the right thing, to lead us out of this valley of the shadow of death that we seem to be stuck in, so that we can state in full confidence the words of Psalm 23: You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and kindness shall be my portion all the days of my life.

 

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781