I found out about the Newtown shooting while working in a pediatric clinic. In between seeing children with sore throats and rashes and sniffles, I would hover over the computer and read more about other children torn apart by gunfire. I found out about the Boston bombing while working a long shift in the hospital. While examining patients in their rooms, I couldn’t help but sneak peeks at their TV sets as the chaos unfolded. Often, I simply stopped what I was doing and watched the news alongside them in silence. We would shake our heads together in grief and disbelief, and I felt stunned by the juxtaposition that there were those – patients and healthcare staff alike – who could be working so hard to overcome an illness at the same time that others were eviscerating those who were perfectly healthy. It was a deeply disturbing day.
On Mother’s Day, at aÂ parade in New Orleans, three men walked into the crowd and began firing. They shot 19 people, two of which were children, three of whom were critically injured. One of the gunmen is still at large. However, no city was shut down. There has been limited media coverage of the event, perhaps because it was the third holiday this year in which the city saw gunfire into crowds. When I read this news, I posted a link to it on facebook and then promptly forgot about it until sitting down to write this post.
At what point does violence and the corruption of the sacred become something acceptable or even normal? I heard an interview/conversation on the radio between two mothers from Massachusetts: a mom from Newtown and a mom from the inner city:
Gekas said that when you look at her son, Alex, in profile, he looks like 19-year-old Dzokhar Tsarnaev, the young man who was the target of the police search.
Gekas later [said]Â that when her son came into the kitchen and announced that he was walking to a friendâ€™s house, â€œI flipped. I told him he was in â€˜mommy lockdownâ€™ and he wasnâ€™t going anywhere.â€
Gekasâ€™ husband convinced her to let Alex leave the house, but he first gave his son the same warning that black inner-city teenage boys hear about how to behave when confronted by police: Donâ€™t run away, keep your hands visible, donâ€™t reach into your pockets.
â€œI donâ€™t normally have a fear of police, and I never have thought to instruct my son like this,â€ Gekas said. â€œBut he has grown six inches in the past year and heâ€™s looking like a young man and he does wear kind of baggy clothes.â€
When Gekas told her brother about her fear, he said, â€œNow you know how it feels to be an African-American motherâ€¦ Thatâ€™s what [they] worry about all the time.â€
â€œMy immediate reaction, was, â€˜No way. They canâ€™t feel this way every dayâ€™,â€ Gekas said. â€œThereâ€™s no way someone could live like this.â€
â€œWelcome to my world,â€ Tina Chery told Gekas…
Chery is an inner-city mom, and 20 years ago her 15-year-old son was killed when he was caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting as he walked to an afternoon meeting of Teens Against Gang Violence…
While the lockdown in Newton and other Boston suburbs lasted 24 hours, for urban mothers and families in high-crime areas, itâ€™s a stress they deal with every day.
â€œItâ€™s a chronic impact,â€ Chery said. â€œYouâ€™re hearing gunshots. Youâ€™re hearing the crime, the homicides, the unsolved murders. Thereâ€™s really not much time to take it in and go through that grieving process.â€
I was recently at a conference of pediatriciansÂ in Washington, DC to discuss gun violence. We were preparing talking points for future meetings with Congress members, planning to advocate for better firearm safety (something I thought to be a contradiction in terms). However, I felt very uneasy. In the nation’s capital, it seemed likeÂ appearancesÂ andÂ impressionsÂ meantÂ everything. EveryoneÂ seemed immacÂuÂlately dressed and my scuffed shoes and worn belt felt out of place among theÂ polishedÂ lobÂbyÂistÂ briefcasesÂ and horn-rimmedÂ hipsterÂ eyeÂwear.
I made some phone calls to friends from the city,Â peopleÂ whom I had come toÂ WashingtonÂ toÂ represent.Â All of them were dedÂiÂcated to work and life with kids in the inner city. I asked them to tell theirÂ stories, and here theyÂ are:
â€œYesÂterÂday, I heardÂ gunshotsÂ outsideÂ the office, the afterÂschool camp where the kids were coming.â€
â€œThis past week, aÂ studentâ€¦ he came up to meÂ excitedlyÂ and said, â€˜I just saw aÂ shooting! Down the street!Â PeopleÂ areÂ runningÂ â€™ I asked him ifÂ anyoneÂ was hurt, and he said heÂ didn’tÂ know. Then he went back toÂ playingÂ basketball, as if it wasÂ somethingÂ normal, but I know itâ€™s notâ€¦Â it shouldnâ€™t be someÂthing thatâ€™s just norÂmal. Heâ€™s ten yearsÂ old.â€
â€œI asked the kids to do aÂ watercolorÂ of things that they were afraid of. IÂ didn’tÂ tell themÂ anythingÂ else, but they started to paintÂ picturesÂ of guns, and of bloodÂ spurtingÂ outâ€¦ theyâ€™re in 1stÂ to 5thÂ grade.â€
â€œHow many of them have been affected by guns? I canâ€™t think ofÂ someoneÂ whoÂ hasn’tÂ hadÂ someoneÂ in theÂ familyÂ or a friend getÂ shot.â€
â€œTwo years ago, I wasÂ walkingÂ down the street and got robbed atÂ gunpointÂ I still getÂ paranoidÂ whenÂ walkingÂ down the street, and I grew upÂ here.â€
â€œWe had a young mother, 19 years old with two kids. One day she picked them up fromÂ daycareÂ and took them homeâ€¦ and found a dead body in theÂ backyardÂ who had been shot. SheÂ hasn’tÂ let her kids play in the street since, and itâ€™s beenÂ years.â€
â€œTheÂ personÂ who taught me to read got shot. He was justÂ sittingÂ in hisÂ carâ€¦â€
â€œGuns are just a part of these kidsÂ lives.â€
â€œThere was a 14 year old who used to come to camp; he went ahead and shot his friend over some fight over a girl. Now heâ€™s inÂ jailâ€¦â€
â€œThe kids are afraid to walk home from the bus, or the park, or out on the street because ofÂ guns.â€
â€œOne time I heardÂ gunshotsÂ just around theÂ cornerâ€¦ I wasÂ havingÂ to tell kids to get inside because someoneâ€™s beenÂ shootingÂ a gun down the street. The older guys wereÂ standingÂ outsideâ€¦Â they’veÂ seen this play outÂ hundredsÂ ofÂ times.â€
TheseÂ storiesÂ cameÂ easilyÂ fromÂ peopleÂ who were far tooÂ comfortableÂ telling them. If there was any silence on the phone, it was because I was at a loss for words.
How modern is the parable of the Good Samaritan? It struck me, there among the hallways and seats of power, that it was less of a parable and more of an anecdote. For how many of us have driven around “those areas” of the city, have bought houses and built churches and gone to university and eaten in restaurants that benefit from urban industry while tactfully avoiding its geographic centers of decay? Really, who are our neighbors? And have we simply moved, physically as well as symbolically, in such a way as to make the answer more convenient and palatable to our consciences?
As IÂ stumbledÂ forÂ appropriateÂ words to say over the phone, my friends helped me close such aÂ casuallyÂ horrificÂ conversationÂ with this question:
â€œCan I pray forÂ you?â€
I am still struck by this outÂpourÂing of grace that seemed so counÂterÂinÂtuÂitive at first. To them, and to me, true power and life does not come from a gun or a sword or a pen or a suit. It comes from obeÂdiÂence to aÂ simpleÂ series ofÂ commands:Â do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. If this means weÂ lose our lives that we may find it, then we do so gladly.Â If it means we speak unpopÂuÂlar truth to overÂwhelmÂing power, then our feet should only ask for theÂ directionÂ to go.
I am not writing a proscription for a mass migration by Christians into the inner city (though perhaps we should!) But what I am wondering is how we, as Christian households and academics, can seek to be a humble neighbor and witness to those around us that do live among threats of violence and fear. What Newtown and Aurora and Boston have taught us is that we are all neighbors and ought to act accordingly.
And behold, aÂ lawyer stood up toÂ put him to the test, saying, â€œTeacher, what shall I do toÂ inherit eternal life?â€ He said to him,Â â€œWhat is written in the Law? How do you read it?â€ And he answered,Â â€œYou shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, andÂ your neighbor as yourself.â€ And he said to him,Â â€œYou have answered correctly;Â do this, and you will live.â€
But he,Â desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, â€œAnd who is my neighbor?â€ Jesus replied,Â â€œA manÂ was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance aÂ priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewiseÂ a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But aÂ Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him andÂ bound up his wounds, pouring onÂ oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out twoÂ denariiÂ and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, â€˜Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.â€™ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?â€ He said, â€œThe one who showed him mercy.â€ And Jesus said to him,Â â€œYou go, and do likewise.â€ – Luke 10
About the author:
David graduated from Princeton University with a degree in Electrical Engineering and received his medical degree from Rutgers - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School with a Masters in Public Health concentrated in health systems and policy. He completed a dual residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at Christiana Care Health System in Delaware. He continues to work in Delaware as a dual Med-Peds hospitalist. Faith-wise, he is decidÂedly Christian, and regarding everything else he will gladly talk your ear off about health policy, the inner city, gadgets, and why Disneyâ€™s Frozen is actually a terrible movie.