A week ago Monday, a “suspicious person with a rifle at the school” incident was reported in one of our nearby villages. It was pretty tense, as you might suspect. Upon thorough investigation, it was determined that the rifle was, in fact, a long, skinny canvas bag for baseball bats, carried into the school by a student athlete as he arrived for an early morning workout. Whew.
Then, just one week later, the news of a fire at Notre Dame Cathedral swept through the country at lightning speed. The videos of Parisians and tourists standing with awestruck faces and singing together were moving and a kind of eeriness pervaded the coverage.
Our local situation was reported on Chicago news stations, although it never reached the wall-to-wall coverage we often see when the situation rises to the level of crisis.
The images of the burning cathedral were unavoidable.
Two very different stories.
But similar in one respect: the speed of our responses on social media.
Many of us locals looked to social media, scrambling for more information about the school story, as our own children were affected by the reports. We refreshed village pages often, hoping for news not yet reported by television or radio.
I was first made aware of the cathedral fire, oddly enough, through random, old Parisian vacation pictures posted and tweeted by people I don’t know but who I follow. Some without explanation or captions, some with emojis of crying eyes and downcast looks. But all in response to the fire.
The reports on Twitter and Facebook for both the local and national news stories were very helpful. Questions were answered by those in the know.
But some of the responses to the welcome reports caught me by surprise; they were so immediate, so jarring, so harsh. So many were judgmental. It was as if people were sitting, poised and ready to strike at anything that opened the door, even just a smidge, to their voice and position.
I get it. I respond pretty strongly to news stories – sometimes without enough information to make an informed conclusion, providing me frequent opportunities to look like an idiot. Sometimes, my responses are so knee-jerk, my whole body is knocked sideways. I cry without understanding exactly why or clench my fists without knowing the whole story.
For these two Monday stories, I declined the urge to comment. About the fire story, I did write a single sentence of personal sadness, but made no comment to anyone else’s posts.
I did read some responses, however. And, good golly, Miss Molly.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe everybody is entitled to their own opinions, no matter how misguided they appear to me. I have written – and thankfully deleted – my fair share of counterpoint venting on a variety of controversial issues. (Please note “deleted.”)
But, no matter how strongly you or I believe we are right or that our positions are superior or that everyone else is a complete moron, there remains the matter of kindness, if not simple civility, manners, and good taste.
I know there are differences in philosophy about gun control, arming teachers, school security, and solutions to mass shootings.
And I know many people have been hurt by the church. That money spent resurrecting a structure might be better spent in other ways. I know other churches, with very low profiles, have been recently burned in hate and malice.
I know these stories trigger deep feelings.
But I respectfully object to those comments that grant no margin to immediate, personal, genuine reactions to news. No consideration for the unfiltered expressions of authentic fear or grief voiced by real people with real souls. Statements that may not have been carefully scribed and are in no way meme-worthy, but that are powerful and searing. Heartfelt responses made up of nothing but pure emotion.
I get it. When issues regarding the 2nd Amendment, abuses by clergy, lack of compassion for the marginalized and forgotten are re-exposed, many feel the need to strike while the iron is hot.
I also know that platform size and clever soundbites have in some ways earned our respect. We look to those with whom we agree and who are eloquent and well-spoken as they carry our flag. We admire how they find opportunities to drive home what we believe to be most important in a world of commentary chaos and division and political baiting. We are empowered when our cause is brought into the limelight once again.
In my opinion, though, we need a universal Pause Button.
Please, I ask you. Let the trained authorities do their jobs and return our school to a safe place for our children before you vent about the need to armed our already over-burdened teachers or your fear of a police state if gun control is enacted.
Let those watching their deepest and warmest memories go up in flames mourn what they have lost, even if you do not see the value or the sanctity of that space.
Can we please give each other just a little room? Can I worry about the safety of my grandchildren before we debate who should carry guns? Can I shed a few tears about the loss of beauty and history before you preach about systemic greed and abuse, no matter how true or terrible?
There is a clear need for conversations about the second amendment and our rights in general. The stories of mistreatment of the most vulnerable within the walls of what should be the safest places on earth are reprehensible. The invisibility of other churches and institutions and people who are overlooked simply because they are small and unknown is not acceptable or excusable.
But the raw feelings of fear and sadness, the anxieties and memories that overwhelm us during these 24/7 news cycles – they are real and need space to breathe.
No, we should never tire of righting wrongs, remembering the forgotten, fighting for our children, our faith, our future.
But, my lovelies, sometimes I just need a minute before Monday’s social media piles on its far-reaching altruism and opinions and editorials. Sometimes we all just need someone to sit close or give us a tissue.
Sometimes, hitting the pause button is the most welcome of gifts.