Yesterday morning a man entered into an office and massacred twelve people. By the time the dust settled, he too was dead.
I was drinking coffee with my aunt, at the table by the large window, while the warm autumn light pushed its’ way through the trees and filled our home in DC.
The way I found out was my CNN app buzzing my iphone on the table and when I read the news clicker out loud, we sat quietly for a moment, shaking our heads. We talked about gun control, the culture of violence, and how to combat this vicious infection of evil that seems to be expanding, accelerating through our homes and schools and movie theaters and places of work. Where do you start to stop it? Where are the answers?
I sat in these question. I went about my day.
As the death toll rose, I wondered about the news. I wondered if this would be big enough- the final straw driving us toward real and lasting change. If the twelve dead would be so haunting for the NRA politicians that they might reconsider their stances on gun control. I sat in downtown traffic angry and annoyed and for the entirety of the day I didn’t once think about the victims.
I didn’t think about the horror of being hunted by a madman, one armed with something so terribly powerful that no one could ever outrun it. The way they must’ve hid beneath desks decorated with framed family photos, behind hallway corners waiting, feet pressed up against the bathroom stall doors. What sheer grief felt like, knowing you would never see your family again.
God placed in me a heart that pumps for justice and it is a gift. It is a good quality I have. But I also hate its’ tendency to pull me past the grieving, skip over it for the actions, resolutions and new laws. I am pointing fingers at all around me, like pistols, and someone else is waiting for their loved one to come home.
In these kind of events that snatch away the nation’s breath, I have always thought about proximity. The tsunami was too far away and the death toll too high, too overwhelming for a prayer to fit. Aurora is in Colorado, Newton is in Connecticut, Oklahoma’s tornado felt out of this world.
But this is my city now and nothing in me changed that day. Shocking violence and a death toll piling up are still not enough to shake awake my humanity. I’m still skipping over it on my way to justice.
I remember reading this from Addie Zierman after Oklahoma and I think what she’s getting at here is something so deeply spiritual. About all of us forgoing are tendency to look away from the carnage.
“In the mornings, I sit at this chair, turned toward the big window, waiting for words, waiting for God.
I was here the morning after the theatre shooting in Colorado and the morning after Hurricane Sandy. On the mornings after Sandy Hook I forced myself to look at the photos of each of those children, weeping and saying their names out loud in the silence. For myself. For their Mamas. Saying it all to a God who often feels so far away from it all.” – Addie Zierman, On God, Storms and Asking the Hard Questions
As I sit a morning removed from the wreckage, I am saying their names out loud. I am saying them to a God that does feel far away, often, but I am also saying them for myself who has become too numb to pain of others.. I am doing it selfishly to hem together my humanity, nourish my heart with a real cry. And I am reminded it is also our call to grieve with those who grieve. To sit in the dark and remember those we’ve lost.
I am in the perfect warmth of fall within the city where, less 24 hours ago, evil rained fire. But really, I could be a million miles away. I can click off the phone, change the channel, turn to my to-do list and fret over the important and foolish anxieties of the day. I can choose to turn my head away from the bullet battered office, the family paralyzed in pain, the screams and the bloodshed. Being close doesn’t make any of the world’s horrors matter more to me.
But speaking them does. When I read those names, let them mix in with my heart, and then fill in my voice there is a connection that occurs. I wince with a fraction of their pain. I hear more of their cries for a God that never came. I am less distant. I am less numb. I am more present. More human.
Right now, at 10:15 AM, there have only been seven names released:
Michael Arnold, 59
Arnold and his wife, Jolanda, had been married for more than 30 years, Hunter said. They had two grown sons, Eric and Christopher.
Hunter said Arnold returned to Michigan for Labor Day to visit his 80-year-old mother, Patricia.
Arthur Daniels, 51
For the last two years, Arthur Daniels has relocated and installed office furniture in federal government buildings around the region. On Monday, he went to work inside Washington Navy Yard. His family and co-workers say they wish he was anywhere but there.
That’s where he spotted a gunman running down the hallway of building 197, according to witnesses at the scene. He and a colleague started running. They arrived at an elevator and frantically pushed the button to get it to open.
His wife Priscilla Daniels wept while recalling how she waited all day to hear news.
Sylvia Frasier, 53
“The Frasiers prayed and watched the live TV coverage. They clutched their iPhones and clasped one another’s hands every time a cellphone rang or beeped with a text message. Their minister came over, and everyone sat on the couches and sang from the Bible.
“No matter how we feel, no matter what information we get from the FBI, we have got to forgive,” she [Sylvia’s sister] said. “We have to forgive. We can’t become bitter.”
Finally, shortly before 10 p.m., Lindlee and a brother arrived at their parents’ home with news they couldn’t bring themselves to deliver by phone: Sylvia was dead.”
Kathleen Gaarde, 62
“In an e-mail to The Associated Press, Gaarde’s husband, Douglass wrote: “Today my life partner of 42 years (38 of them married) was taken from me, my grown son and daughter, and friends. We were just starting to plan our retirement activities and now none of that matters. It hasn’t fully sunk in yet but I know I already dearly miss her.”
John Roger Johnson, 73
“He always had a smile on his face,” the neighbor said. “He loved children. He loved our grandchildren. No one could ask for a better neighbor.”
Frank Kohler, 50
“A neighbor of Frank Kohler in St. Mary’s County said he was married with two daughters. A family member declined to comment.”
Vishnu Pandit, 61
One neighbor, Zhaohua Zhou, said that a steady stream of cars arrived late Monday outside Vishnu Pandit’s home in North Potomac.
“I’m astonished,” Zhou said. “I’m just so sorry.”
Another neighbor, Mike Honig, said Pandit and his wife have lived in the neighborhood for at least 20 years. He described Pandit as “a very nice man with an Irish setter.”
“All of the neighbors are doing all they can,” Honig said. “It’s a terrible tragedy. . . . It’s a stain and strain on the nation that we haven’t put public safety laws in place to prevent this sort of tragedy.”
A man who answered the phone at the Pandit house said the family did not want to comment.
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, a civilian utilities foreman at the Navy Yard, didn’t work in that building, his ex-wife, Evelyn Proctor, told The Associated Press. But, she said: “It was a routine thing for him to go there in the morning for breakfast, and unfortunately it happened.”
The high school sweethearts had spoken early Monday morning, before he left for work, she said. They talked every day, even after their marriage ended in divorce earlier this year.
“We were still very close. It wasn’t a bitter divorce,” she said. “We still talked every day, and we lived 10 minutes away from each other.”
He was, she said, “a very loving, caring, gentle person.”
After failing to reach her ex-husband by telephone, Evelyn Proctor drove to the Navy Yard, fearing the worst, according to The Associated Press. She waited about three hours with other people looking for their loved ones and was informed around 8 p.m. that Kenneth Proctor was among the shooter’s victims.
He was 46 years old and loved his boys and his Redskins. He’d been born and raised in Charles County, Md., and was still living there. He’d worked for the federal government for 22 years, his ex-wife said. They’d married in 1994 and had two boys together – both now teenagers. Their youngest son, Kendull, is 15. Their eldest, Kenneth Jr., 17, recently enlisted in the Army.