There's a reason that we rush so quickly to fill the silence in moments like these. If we don't, our hearts become an echo chamber that fills up fairly quickly with trauma and grief.
That's how trauma works. Most persons don't realize that their gut reaction to moments like these is trauma; they think it's sadness or something much less, but it's trauma. And here's what trauma does:
Sunday night in the silence, those around here who have been to that mall and eaten in that food court were thinking about the last time they went to that mall or ate in that food court. Those who had plans to go to that mall or to eat in that food court last night but were suddenly side-tracked last minute were thinking about what would have happened if other priorities had not come up. They were looking at their watches and trying to time out where they would have been and when.
Those who are not local but heard the story thought about their own mall and their own food court and the last time they were there. Some may have been in a mall when they heard; some, even in a food court.
It's the same way that we think about our own schools and our own children when we hear about a similar event in a place like Uvalde.
What it is is the loss of innocence and the shattering of the seemingly-simple. What it is is our hearts trying to wrap themselves around a story that now includes this chapter. Our community lost something Sunday night, more than just the tragic loss of four lives. We lost something that cuts to the depths of our being.
And those of us that have heard gunshots ring out in a closed, sacred space of innocence went to bed Sunday night with gunshots ringing in our ears again, even if we were nowhere near the mall. Those who know what this sounds like, smells like, feels like to be in a place and a moment like this were thrust back into that place and moment Sunday night and couldn't get out of it.
That's what trauma does.
That's why we rush so quickly to fill the silence with noise. That's what we're trying to drown out.
We're trying to drown out our own tears over our own innocence. We're trying to drown out the what-ifs. We're trying to drown out the memories that come flooding into whatever space they can fill like spray foam spreading out in a crevice. We're trying to keep ourselves from feeling these things that honestly, most of us are not prepared to feel. We're not prepared to deal with it. We don't know how to do trauma.
Even someone like me, someone who has stood in the dark places for so much of my life and has served as a chaplain and has volunteered to step up in moments like these - I don't get a pass. My stomach turns in knots just like the rest of yours. My mind fills up with what-ifs and memories. My heart twists and turns until it wrenches nearly all of the life out of itself. I'm not immune to trauma.
But I am more willing, by nature of who I am and what I've been through, not to fight it so hard. To just let it come and fill up my empty spaces. To let it seep into the silence and expand and push on the cracks of my soul. I'm not immune to trauma, but I'm not afraid of it, either, because I understand that our best way beyond an event like this is through it.
Our best course of action is to figure out how to navigate through the trauma, how to deal with it meaningfully. Our biggest challenge on a day like today is not our thousand "what-ifs;" it's "what's next?"
And that's a question that we cannot answer without the silence, without the space. Without the trauma and the grief.
Strange as it seems, we need those things for healing.