As I write this, an afternoon summer storm is rolling in. Gone is the clear blue sky of this morning. Gone are the billowing white clouds of noon. Darkening clouds have dimmed the sunlight, making the afternoon duskier than usual but also making the greens of shrubs and trees seem even greener. Goldfinches and sparrows that, until just a few minutes ago, were feasting at the tube feeders have scattered—where do birds shelter in this kind of weather? The shrubs where many of them nest are rocking and rolling with the wind. My dog has also disappeared, but I know where he is. He always runs to a windowless bathroom at the first hint of thunder. And now that thunder—which at first was a distant, muffled rumble—is closer, which is to say louder, sharper, more insistent. A gust of wind sends pink crepe myrtle blossoms dancing across the yard in an exuberant rush. And finally the heavens open and the rains pour down.
I am glad for the storm. For one thing, my backyard eggplants and herbs needed watering. For another, the air will likely be at least a few degrees cooler later when I coax my dog out of the bathroom for an evening walk. I am also glad for the momentary distraction the storm affords as I sit at my desk trying to write about what is on my mind this week: Gilroy, CA, the Garlic Festival; El Paso, TX, the Walmart store; Dayton, OH, the Oregon entertainment district. It seems important not to ignore these latest tragedies that have piled up in less than a week. But what to say?
For I have read and listened to many words in the last few days—anguished words, words trying to make sense of the hatred and violence, words demanding laws that could make us all safer, words deflecting those demands, words placing blame, words justifying actions. Now my own words fail me. I type three lines but they don’t seem right, so I strike out two. I start another sentence, but it sounds thin and trite, and so I scrub that one, too. I can think of nothing new to contribute to the conversation, and I have no heart for repeating what I have heard from others. And so I watch the storm. Perhaps it will give me words.
Then I remember a question one of my granddaughters asked me one clear August evening three years ago. “Gee,” she said, seemingly out of the blue, “do you think the mass shootings will ever stop?” I paused for a moment, wanting to speak carefully, knowing that my granddaughter, who had just turned 14, would see through any phony, facile answer. I wanted to be both hopeful and truthful. “Yes, Lida.” I said. “I think the mass shootings will stop. In fact, I am certain of it. But probably not right away.”
As those words return to me, I hope they are words of faith. I think they are also a prayer. My granddaughter Lida is now 17. Were she here with me now, were she to ask the same question, I would give the same answer: Yes, I believe the mass shootings will stop. In fact, I am certain of it. But probably not right away. Then I would give her a great big hug and make her a pot of tea or fix her a bowl of ice cream, and together we would watch the storm.