This past week, my nation was arrested with tragedy; an unthinkable, malicious event. And as the reports began to scroll through my numerous feeds, I found myself searching the story for some small glimmer of hope or good news. I was looking for an angle.
When it happened, I knew I’d have to write about it. It’s what I do. I felt like my take on the entire horrible situation was expected and should be delivered. And yet, as I sat at my keyboard my fingers choked on the words that refused to spill onto the page. It wasn’t that the words weren’t there. The opposite was true actually. I was brimming with words and phrases, but they were founded in hate and anger and malice. I couldn’t control what I was feeling. And what I was feeling wouldn’t do anyone any good if they were to read it. I couldn’t write about Sandy Hook. I couldn’t cover this massacre. I just couldn’t, not this time.
Maybe it’s because I never fathomed something like this could happen. Maybe it’s because there where children who were the targets and then the victims. Maybe it’s because my own daughter is the exact age as those children who were slain. Whatever the cause, I didn’t feel right about adding my voice to the inevitable noise that was coming. So I sat in silence for the day. There was no post. There were no tweets. Anything I had to say wouldn’t be reflective of the Christian man I claim to be. So I tied my tongue and closed my mind.
Sure enough, the noise began. That evening, through the weekend, and into the new week, links to posts and responses from bloggers littered my feed. Some wanted to discuss grace for the shooter. Others wanted to talk about gun control or the lack thereof. Everywhere I looked, there was another hastily written article from amateur scribes like myself, hustling to be “first” and to capitalize on the fresh deaths. (For what it’s worth, I felt Ally Vesterfelt and Cassi Clerget had the best, most respectful viewpoints on the situation.) But I just couldn’t join in. I wanted to. The desire was there. I wanted to set fire to the internet with strongly worded bouts of intense madness. I wanted my voice and my opinion to be heard. But every time I changed my mind, I pictured those children lying lifeless on cold linoleum. What good would my words do them? What hope or scant faith could I possibly offer when all I wanted was for the shooter to burn for all eternity? What were my words worth when so much evil had taken place? For me, the ache for revered silence overwhelmed my eternal need to write.
In reality, my silence did as much for the victims and their families as my words could have done—very little. But the silence or lack of words wasn’t necessarily for them. Sure, I wanted to show my respect and mourn with them as best I could from 2,000 miles away, but that period of silence was for me more than anything. I couldn’t justify expounding on an event I wasn’t a part of. I didn’t care about being first or prolifically relevant; all of which is rare for a guy like me. In the end, I knew whatever words I could offer would be matchless against the carnage my nation had seen unfold. Of what use were my hurried words to a community that had been torn into a million little bits? Maybe instead, it was okay to sit and pray and consider just this one time.
The fact of the matter is that my generation has become one of cunning “firsts”. We ache to be heard and to garner respect and attention for ourselves. We seek the most original angles and freshest approaches to our art. It’s in this mindset that we meander through the days, hoping to make something of this talent we possess. But maybe we don’t always have to spill our feelings and opinions into every available venue we come across. Maybe it’s okay if we don’t rush to expound on the deaths of 20 children in the search for views and clicks and almighty prestige. Maybe it’s okay if we don’t toss our two cents into every little debate or situation we happen to come across. Maybe it’s time we consider just how much our words are worth. Maybe we can stop to ask ourselves why we’re writing about and covering a certain event. Is it to help those who are hurting? Or is it simply to capitalize on what is suddenly relevant? Of what worth, of what substance are our words beholden to? Are we creating to heal or are we creating to be noticed? If we can slow down and put those questions to ourselves, maybe then we won’t rush so feverishly to splash our words into the world.
The truth is that our words matter and they are worth something rather substantial. But those words carry weight and if they aren’t rooted in good intentions, we’ve already failed.
If we can realize that, maybe we will take our words, our responsibility, a bit more seriously.