December 21, 2012

For Whom the Bell Toll

One week ago a heavily-armed young man walked into an elementary school and slaughtered schoolchildren, teachers, and administrators. It is a tragic story that we all have heard much about by now (I reflected on this tragedy and the message of Christmas in a post here). Among the many questions that remain unanswered is how to count the victims. It may not be a question many are asking, but it is one we should ponder. Most memorials in Newtown and elsewhere remember 26--the 20 schoolchildren and the 6 adult employees at the school. President Barack Obama mentioned all 26 by name in his speech at a Newtown memorial. Yet left unmentioned in Obama's speech and most other memorials are two others who died in the tragic events. One is the mother of the shooter, Nancy Lanza, who is counted among the victims in only some remembrances. As the Washington Post explained, the absence of her name among many victim lists--or listing the death toll as 27 instead of 26--comes as some in the community feel she is partly to blame for buying the guns, teaching her son to shoot, and leaving them where he could get access to them. And yet, she is clearly a victim. The first to die, hers is a tragic tale. No matter what one may think about her mistakes, she is a victim. There is, however, still one more victim left out even more than Nancy Lanza--her son, Adam. As the shooter, he is the perpetrator. Yet, he is also a victim in this tragic tale as he took his own life after his murderous rampage. Like with the other victims, his father, brother, and other loved ones are left to grieve his loss--except they also must mourn his last acts. It might be hard to say the death count is 28 instead of 27 or 26, but we must mourn the loss of each life. If not, we are saying some lives do not matter, which is especially problematic during the season when we remember the birth of the Savior who came to redeem everyone. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is among the few places to adopt this perspective (the photo is one I took of the National Cathedral a couple years ago). Their service today included ringing the bell 28 times. Listening to the first 26 slow bell tolls can be painful as we reflect on this senseless tragedy. Listening to bell toll number 27 can be slightly more difficult and upsetting. Listening to bell toll number 28 might be even be enraging. It is such a shocking idea that some news reports even incorrectly reported the bell would toll 26 times because they heard it would ring once for each victim. And yet, the bell sounds the 28th time, its echoing last ring hauntingly hanging in the air. A ring. A reflection. A reminder. Life is always precious.