Once again, our headlines tell the story of the unthinkable - a man with a gun walked into a Sunday morning church service and opened fire, killing many. Once again, we find ourselves talking about the innocent - the men, women, and children who died by gunfire yesterday morning. Once again, our talk is off by one -
When these kinds of things happen, the rhetoric is very quick to follow. This morning, knowing the shooter's history, we're not talking about guns as much (we're still talking about guns; we can't seem to help ourselves); we're talking about mental illness. We're talking about how terrible it is that this man fell through the system, that we weren't able to get to him and give him the help that he needed.
Just think of all the innocent lives we could have saved if our mental health care system were better.
And, of course, we're talking about the lives of the churchgoers. We're talking about the lives of the ones who "didn't have to die." We're talking about those whose blood was spilled in that place. But we're not talking about the one whose pain was poured out there.
We're not talking about the man who pulled the trigger and what we could have done for him. We're not talking about how we failed him, how we should have done more to save him. We're not talking about how our system failed his quality of life, his relationships, his loved ones, his pain. We're not talking about him as if he is a casualty of our failed system, even though he now lies both dead and defamed.
Oh, no, we're not talking about him. He doesn't count.
He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who perpetrated this atrocity. He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who thought that a small church full of quiet persons and jubilant children was the best place to pour out his pain. He doesn't count because he's the unlovable monster who never could get his own life under control so thought it permissible, for some reason, to take the lives of others. Oh, no, we can't talk about this unlovable monster.
But think of all the innocent lives we could have saved.
Think about this man's innocent life.
Think about the life that this man could have had if he hadn't fallen through the cracks of our system, the same system that we're saying should have saved those churchgoers. Yes, maybe, but that system should have saved this man. That system should have given him his life long before he even considered taking the lives of others. That system should have recognized his hopes, his dreams, his frailty and determined that this was a man worth fighting for, long before we ever had to consider how hard we fought for the lives of the "innocent."
This man, too, was once innocent. In fact, right up until the moment that he pulled that trigger, he was innocent, a tragic victim of his own broken story. Why is there not more outrage that we did not fight for his life?
It's heartbreaking how easily we cast others aside until and unless they become a problem for us. It's horrible how easily we neglect other human beings until they do something inhumane, and then we cast them aside forever, not worthy to be human any more. No longer mattering. No longer counting.
We know because our body counts are always off by one - the unlovable.
And, forgive me, but I always wonder in times like these what would have happened if we'd loved him. Not for the sake of those in that church yesterday morning (may God's love and peace wrap around them and comfort them), but for the sake of the one who came bursting in, for God so loved him, too.