Last Sunday I attended First Presbyterian Church’s screening of the film “Triggered: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence.” The film was followed by a panel discussion with Rev. Dr. Kate Wiebe, Founder of Institute for Collective Trauma and Growth; Dr. Robert Kanard, Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Cottage Hospital, pediatric trauma surgeon; Suzanne Grimmesey, Santa Barbara County Department of Behavioral Wellness; and Frann Wageneck, longtime Santa Barbara Unified School District administrator. Both the film and the panel shed light on the problem of gun violence and how it affects children and families. It was a heavy conversation and I walked away from it with the usual sense of powerlessness that I feel around this issue.
But then I had an experience that gave me a slightly clearer perspective. As I was leaving the event I had a conversation with one of the attendees who had lost a loved one to gun violence. From this encounter, I got a little closer, on a human level, to the depth of pain that people suffer. I learned from this person that one never recovers from such a loss. While I understood this intellectually, it’s very different to hear it directly from someone who has experienced it. For the survivors of gun violence, they live the rest of their lives with wounds that will never heal. This means that they have to be cautious when the topic of gun violence is brought up because it affects them deeply; it means that when new friends learn about their experience these people often get uncomfortable and try to avoid the topic; and it means that certain circumstances that remind them of the event can trigger intense anxiety, even decades after the loss.
I have been mulling over what I learned ever since. For those of us who are not personally affected by gun violence in a direct way, horrific events like Uvalde can lead to a flurry of anxious questions of “why?” and “what can we do?” But because we are so afraid and confused our questions lead nowhere but to more blame and polarization. Then we burn out and as time goes on the urgency fades and we go back to our everyday lives until the next horrific event happens. But for all those who lose their children, siblings, mothers or fathers to gun violence, the experience is now a permanent wound, a sorrow they will never shake. That means that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people are walking around among us with these wounds. They are our friends and co-workers, our neighbors and fellow church members. Maybe we need to be more aware and open to them and to the reality that they live with every day. Maybe we should listen more, walk beside them longer, and recognize their pain and loss with due respect. As time goes on, we shouldn’t let these grieving friends fade into the background. Just maybe, if we sit with their pain a little longer and let it sink in a little deeper, we will gain enough clarity to address the problem of gun violence together, with unity and courage.
Praying for that future,