I kissed my mother’s forehead, told her I loved her, and said goodbye at her nursing home in Hesston, Kansas, on Wednesday, Feb 24. Emphatically she ordered, “Come back and visit me!” Mom rarely speaks a coherent sentence any more. I was impressed that she got out those five words. She doesn’t call me by name, but I think she knows who I am. I’m quite certain she enjoyed my two-day visit. She’s 97 now.
Then I drove to Newton, KS—down Old Highway 81, recently renamed Hesston Road—to see if the Chinese restaurant on Main was open in the evenings. It was and I had a good meal. I spent the night at my brother’s home in a nearby town and left for my drive back to Boulder, Colorado, the next morning.
It was on Thursday, Feb 25, in the late afternoon while I was driving back to Boulder that four people were shot dead at Excel Industries, an equipment manufacturing plant in little Hesston, a town of under 4000 people.
I’ve been visiting Hesston for years because Mom is there. I know the few restaurants (tiny Skoops is a favorite of mine—a 50s cafe with ice cream and burgers—mostly because of the Elvis, old toys, old cars, old signage decor). I know the town’s streets, the Dyck Arboretum, the water tower, the town slogan: Harvest the Good Life. The mayor who preceded the current one was a childhood friend. I’ve visited the Mennonite Church there with family members; I have friends who went to the two-year Hesston College, a Mennonite institution.
So for several hours that Thursday night, I sat before my computer following the online media broadcasters who did their best to keep viewers informed in a very fluid situation involving several sites.
But how does one wrap one’s head around yet another shocking massacre?
On Friday, I was wildly disoriented, much more affected by this than I thought I should be. I could hardly sit still; I aimlessly I went from one room to another. My focus was so scattered that I almost missed my appointment, scheduled weeks before, with an energy healer. Thankfully, she put me back together…I left her office feeling whole again, unsure whether I should watch more news about the Hesston event or not. (See Katherine Parker’s site for information about this gifted healer: resonancealchemy.com.)
I do believe in subtle activism—common forms of which are prayer, positive thoughts, sending Light and healing energy—as a way of assisting situations from a distance, I did those things that felt appropriate to me. I also believe that being neutral, being nonjudgmental is the most powerful stance we can have about anything—and it’s probably not wise to attempt to pray or send Light until we can get to neutrality within ourselves. I do believe that the best thing we can do with adversity is use it for wisdom and upliftment, for creating greater love and liberty. I worked to stay pretty neutral that day.
And many questions surfaced for me—most of them initially began with Why? I’m aware that Why? is not the most powerful question, but it’s what comes up first at a time like this. It’s a starting point to getting to a more healing perspective. I’ll write a few of my Why? questions here, to get them out of the way:
*Mennonites are traditionally pacifists, eschewing weaponry and warfare: Why would this happen in a largely pacifist community like Hesston?
*Why did the perpetrator have to be black? What does that mean for the African-American community? What does that mean in terms of ameliorating racism in America–does it just serve to reinforce stereotypes?
*Why did the perpetrator have to be a (presumed) abuser of women? What does that mean in terms of raising consciousness about sexism and male-female relationships?
*For me personally, why was I there so close to the time of the massacre?
*Why are so many of my extended family members now involved in aspects of the community recovery?
I’m also aware that two questions are more powerful to me than Why? They are How? and What if?
What if there’s a bigger picture here?
What if there are thought-tools I can use when I think about such events, tools that bring me to neutrality?
How could this event serve the common good? (Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine student-shooters who killed13 and then himself in1999, has just published a book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living with the Aftermath of Tragedy, on what parents can learn from her experience. That’s an example of how tragedy serves the common good.)
What if the Midwest, specifically, needs to wake up?
What if Mennonites, pacifists, or anti-militarists are needed to speak up more loudly?
What if being known as “the quiet in the land” is no longer of use to the greater community?
What if this in some way helps us—the great American community of citizens—figure out how to work together to save lives? What if this in some way catalyzes us to find better ways to treating and bringing boys to manhood?
What if the souls on the other side, the ones who died, including the perpetrator, are actually okay with what happened.
What if I personally could help that come about, by holding such a vision, by speaking out, by taking actions?
I could list many more What Ifs, but these few helped to give me some perspective. I don’t know if anyone will read this blog post, but I do know that after writing the questions, I feel more compassionate toward the perpetrator; more neutral, even, about sorrow and grief; more respectful of law-enforcement officials and the press; more curious about my responsibility or opportunity in the world.
I walked down the street on Friday and some neighbors said hello. I mentioned I’d just come from the town where there was a mass shooting the day before. They basically didn’t know what I was talking about. And later, friend to whom I mentioned it changed the subject.
I understand that soon after the shooting event, the White House called the Hesston city and police officials. President Obama spoke about the need to not to get numb to these events. But according to an editorial in Sunday’s New York Times, he’s done as much as he can without the support of Congress.
When will we—again, we the great American community of citizens—learn what we need to learn?