I keep a copy of my grandmother’s funeral card in my journal, which I forgot about until I opened it to write my thoughts on the horrific Orlando nightclub shooting. It’s a laminated copy, making it seem as new as the day in 1997 that she was laid to rest. The back is an angelic depiction of Christ with his arms wide, head delicately tilted, and eyes to Heaven- a real “bring it in, homie” kind of feel. The photo my family chose of her is her nursing photo; young, hopeful, she was born to help people. Most importantly, though, is that below that is her favorite prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi; “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”
The card epitomizes everything she stood for; she was the embodiment of love, something I see in my mother as well. Hugs that enveloped you, that I have woken up from dreams of her still feeling, as though she were really there with her arms around me, that made me feel whole. “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” she would say. And though I can’t with good conscience consider myself Catholic anymore (don’t tell my grandfather that, though!), I still say that prayer to myself on a fairly regular basis, simply for its universality and ego-checking ability.
And now more than ever I needed to find it. My grandmother- no doubt- is weeping in Heaven for the souls of everyone affected by the indescribable tragedy of the Orlando shooting. She- no doubt- aches for the lives lost.
But I know she would never react with anger- only love. We MUST love. We must. We must, every day of our brief existence on this planet, insignificant in the grand scheme of things, teach and practice only love. I cannot speak as an expert on gun laws, only how humans treat other humans. What are we leaving for the next generation, the youngest members of our current society, to learn about humanity, when all they see is hatred, violence, petty bickering, and insults?
But what do I say, that we haven’t heard a thousand times this last decade as violence and hatred escalates exponentially? A society and a culture do not change overnight, I can tell you that, but in the long term, the single most effective thing we can do is teach our children NOW that they must always curb their anger and never give in to fear and hatred. We must teach them to love. They must love. Our greatest weapon in the face of fear and hatred is patience and acceptance and love, even in the smallest of ways and in our daily lives and actions and behavior.
We do not do that by pointing fingers, laying blame, name calling, and electing a president that thrives off of the belittling of others. We do not do that by blaming an entire religion for the fault of one group, one person’s hatred that has seeped into others.
War is often inevitable. War is often a response to a direct threat. War is often a country’s best defense- but hatred CANNOT be. We must love our neighbors. We must respect our neighbors and their opinions. Like I said, I’m not an expert on gun laws, but I have fired one, learned basic gun safety, and I know many people who are gun owners- respectable, disciplined, intelligent people who understand that there is a problem with this country, people who, in an event such as a mass shooting I WOULD feel safer being near. However, that does not describe ALL gun owners. In the same way that we cannot put everyone of the same religion in the same category, we cannot put all gun owners in the same category, whether good or bad.
I have seen the posts from many good friends of mine saying that our problem is not with guns, but with a Godless society. Is it not a society that used God as their “guide” during the Crusades? Is ISIS not using God as their reasoning? There are millions of truly GOOD God-fearing people out there in all religions, and millions of bad people using God as their excuse as well; just the same there are millions of wonderful, caring, and loving people who don’t believe in a certain religion, or any at all. I cannot believe that our problem is a Godless society. If anything it’s a goodless society.
We need level-headed, intelligent, patient discussion, and intensive scientific study of the issues in this country, and not this childish he-said-she-said avoidance of any real acknowledgement that perhaps this is BOTH a gun control issue AND a cultural issue; a problem with self-righteousness.
I feel deep in my gut that my grandmother wants me to pray and to love. I was always taught that love is a verb; to love is not to feel love, but to practice actions of love. It is not to be held on to, but is something to share. Love is selfless. Love is strong. Love takes time to cultivate.
I laid in bed with my grandmother’s card in hand, reciting her favorite prayer again and again, softly weeping and trying to make sense of what’s going on in this world. I can’t make sense of hatred. I- we- will always need love, God, whatever you refer to Him as (sometimes I call it “the Universe”) and as a 25-year-old young woman with a lot more life to live, I will need it more and more every day if this is the path our country must continue on. But I won’t give up.
As we move forward in what seems like bleakest of times, I am begging you to not give up on others, on God, on love. I am begging you to live with an open mind and an even more open heart. Alone, you cannot change the world with love, but together, perhaps we can. And I don’t mean only when tragedy strikes, but every day, with every stranger, with every friend, loved one, those who have hurt you, those who have stood by you, acquaintance, every social interaction you experience. Love is a powerful action, and the more you live it, the more it will catch on. Live for others, love others.