Tag Archive for: Covenant School

Farewell 2023, and good riddance.  In our generation, it is hard to recall a more heartbreaking, crisis-ridden 12 months.  The year-in-review news summaries are enough to turn the toughest stomach. Wars, weather crises, political turmoil, unrelenting gun violence—it is enough to bow the most fervently faithful head.

As we all search the horizon for bright spots, seeking hope anywhere, I started a list of inspirations from 2023.  From the tiny and personal to the global, the private to the very public, here are 10 widely disparate things and people—some more serious than others–that were bright lights for me in a tough year. In no particular order:

Neighbors still help neighbors.  In early summer, a favorite neighbor up the street experienced a sudden and serious medical emergency while alone at home.  Her kind and attentive son, blocked from reaching her quickly by an untimely traffic problem, called a neighbor, who called another neighbor, who brought still more neighbors.  All raced to her, waiting with her for the ambulance and tending to her home and beloved dogs while she got the medical attention she needed in the hospital.  Waiting for her return home, we circled round, making lists of how best to help in the next phase and sharing ideas for what would mean most to her. Interestingly, our street of all recently built homes forms a very new set of neighbors.  There’s such hope in watching how quickly the bonds of community form and sustain.

Sean Dietrich is an influencer of hope.  This writer, a columnist, novelist, and humorist, devotes his career to inspiring readers through sharing stories of the downtrodden, the overlooked, the defeated.  He testifies to how they struggle, and how they rise.  He shared so many memorable stories this year there is no room to list them all, but his blooming friendship with a young blind girl named Becca who has an angelic singing voice has stirred my heart every single time.  You don’t follow Sean to experience literary greatness; you follow Sean if you want to believe that greatness in the human spirit still triumphs in daily life.

I got Wordle in two.  Twice in the same week!  There’s nothing like blazing, blind luck to inspire hope.  If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.  Never, ever, ever give up.

One doctor really listened.  Absorbing my frustration about a medical problem that lingered, unabated by treatment thus far, the young doctor (about the age of my daughter, I surmised) snapped his laptop shut.  He turned on the stool in the examining room to face me directly and hear me out.  My problem was nowhere close to serious or life-threatening, but it was throwing my daily life off balance, and I was getting desperate.  This has been going on too long, I fumed, and he quietly agreed.  Sometimes it takes multiple tries to find the solution, he added calmly.  Can you hang in there with me while we keep trying?  He really heard me, I thought to myself, shocked to realize how rare that has become.  Hope renewed by having an ally, I said I would. And I did.

The Covenant School parents just won’t go away.   The March 27 slaughter at Covenant School of three children and three adults by a deranged former student with an assault rifle was described by our mayor as Nashville’s worst day.  The ripples of heartbreak and despair spread everywhere in the community.  Conversely, there are ripples of hope, maybe small, but still visible, in the determined voices of the Covenant parents’ group that is publicly advocating for improved gun safety in Tennessee.  Soundly defeated, even harassed and vilified for their intervention at a special session of Tennessee’s legislature in late summer, they are already speaking out as the lawmakers prepare to reconvene in the new year.  There’s a faint but discernible glimmer of light in the widening circle of churches and other community-based groups rallying to support their position and kindling the public dialogue.

When love wins, the light reflects on many.  This summer, my daughter married a loving and kind man in a ceremony meticulously planned to reflect their joy in each other.  Watching a child transformed by a loving partnership is surely one of a parent’s greatest gifts.  Watching the parallel joy of her children in their new family unit adds a dimension that beams hope all over the place.

Kentucky re-elected Gov. Andy Beshear.  Major political forces invested heavily in creating a different result, but the voters in my home state nevertheless returned their governor to his office for another four years.  It is so hard, sometimes almost impossible, to like or admire politicians in these times. Yet Beshear inspires hope by demonstrating that public officials can choose to rise above the current tide and lead with vision and decency.  Faced with the pandemic and multiple weather-related tragedies, Beshear speaks common sense, refuses to indulge in ugly partisanship, and openly acknowledges his faith without weaponizing it.  Here’s hoping he has a long and successful career as a public servant in the best sense.

When you need an optimism demo, watch a dog.  Yes, yes, yes, legends are written, and movies are made about all the magical gifts of animals—their dedication, their healing powers, their learning skills and discernment.  On that very long list of things to cherish in their daily lives, I choose optimism.  In my house, there’s a morning ritual as predictable as dawn; my dog spins, dances and prances in front of the closet door closed on his food bin.  Not in so many words, he radiates hope and absolute, unwavering confidence: You’re going to open that door, I just KNOW it, and you’re doing to scoop that stuff for me, ANY MINUTE NOW!  I know you are, I know it, I DO, and I’m SO EXCITED I can’t stand it ONE MORE SECOND.  And I will say ALL this again tomorrow, and every morning after that.

Jon Batiste’s musical genius is getting the attention it deserves.  Many of us first encountered the New Orleans native when he was band director for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  In the last couple of years his career has exploded, as he has won Grammys, an Oscar and more accolades for an astonishing range of work that includes movie scores and a couple of full-length albums.  Jon defies genre and radiates hope and faith.  For a quick dose of the power of Jon’s work if you aren’t already familiar, try his song Freedom.

There was a star.  On a chilly Christmas morning, a few days after the winter solstice, the dog needed his morning break just as dawn was barely evident.  Watching him from the back porch facing the woods behind the house, I looked up at the still-dark sky.  There was a bright, single pinpoint of light reflecting in the east above the trees.  A satellite, maybe?  A helicopter hovering?  Or the Eastern Star of Christmas?  I know what I think.

I don’t think I could have done it. Not then, not so soon.

It would have been too painful to say the word “hope” just days after our community joined hundreds of others across America, paralyzed and grief-stricken.  As we have watched in so many other cities and towns nationwide, a deranged, gun-laden shooter blasted her way into Covenant School in Nashville on March 27 and showered assault-style bullets into three nine-year-olds and three adult staff members before the police killed her.

Everyone knew someone who was impacted.  It was inescapable.  Someone was a cousin of one of the victims, their next-door neighbor, a student of the murdered head of school, a spouse of one of the first responders, a news anchor who had to stand in front of the cameras reporting on victims close to the ages of her own children.  Tragedy converts a large city to a small community as quickly as an assault weapon ends lives. Many of us navigated those first days in a daze of horror.

And yet, sooner than it seemed possible, after just two or three settings of the sun, even in those bleary early days of shock, hope was sought, and was offered. In this particular case, it was a trade for hospitality and nourishment, with open acknowledgement of the natural trauma of any parent.

“It’s been a lot…. In honor of our daughter and all the kids growing up in this world today we’re offering the HOPE special for lunch. We cook, you say Hope then you eat, for free. Let’s strive to make the world the place our children deserve!”

That’s the Instagram post from a trendy Asian restaurant in East Nashville called Xiao Bao, just three days after the Covenant tragedy.  And those generous proprietors stood alongside many others with hearts aching for the opportunity to do something. Along with the pain and the fear and the anger and the utter disgust, you could almost touch another element tightening the circles within circles.  It wove its way into the bonds that form a community. Call it Hope, call it Love, call it Generosity…call it all those things, or anything you like.  Along with the grief that settled over the city like the unsettled clouds of a spring storm, those unexpected forces also rooted and grew.

Nashville’s beloved Frist Art Museum offered two days of open doors, free to all, “Whether you need to gather with loved ones or visit alone, we hope the museum can provide some respite.” Less than 10 hours after the shooting, our church opened its doors to the community for a candlelight vigil of grief and acknowledgement.  Local flower farm Apple & Dove, a small family enterprise, dropped a delivery of brilliant clumps of spring tulips in mason jars at a popular local produce market. Their bouquets normally get snatched up at prices that enable a small farm to survive, but these gorgeous emblems of spring’s arrival were free.  “Our community is hurting..” said the sign on the shelf, inviting anyone who would take comfort from the beautiful offering to help themselves.  

I took a bouquet and dashed out to my car, where I sobbed all the way home.

Why is it the signs of kindness that throw open the gates of emotion? The stories just kept coming.

“Magpies store was giving away pink headbands to girls going to Evelyn’s funeral (one of the nine-year-old victims). My niece who knew Evelyn’s mom was babysitting for kids of parents who knew the parents better than she did. Her husband was doing the same for a group of boys.”  This so the adults could attend the funeral.

As the services for the victims began, signs of compassion and remarkable mercy continued to emerge.  As reported in the New York Times, the husband of Covenant’s slain head of school reminded the community that all the families of the dead were suffering. “Dick Koonce delivered a eulogy on Wednesday for his wife, Katherine, who was killed in the shooting,” the Times reported. “ ‘Honoring Katherine compels us to remember a seventh family, equally wounded in the loss of someone dear to them,’ Mr. Koonce said, a reference to the family of the shooter. ‘We are trusting in the strong and loving embrace of a strong and loving God to take each of the seven that died and heal their wounds and their souls.’ ”

In neighborhoods across the city, the work continued:  “ We all put pink ribbons on our mailboxes in (another victim’s) honor. Also held a candlelight vigil for her and her family on her street this week. Meal train sign-ups and $ contributions. Some friends/neighbors offered home rentals at no cost to house out of town families and also bedrooms in their homes for families in town. Card/ letter writings. We all feel we can’t do enough…”

“When you don’t know what to do, you do what you know,” said another loving and pragmatic friend, who made large bows in the red and black colors of Covenant School and attached them to mailboxes all up and down her street.

Others took to the streets to vent their grief and demand change in the time-honored American methods of protest.  Group after group gathered at the Tennessee State Capitol, marching with signs held high, demanding legislators consider red-flag laws and restrictions on assault weapons.  Doctors, teachers, law enforcement…most of all, I saw hope in the crowds of the high-school students who walked out of class to march at the capitol.  Their young faces were ablaze with fear and anger—but I saw hope in their presence, in the evidence of their resolve.

We just passed the one-month anniversary of our shared tragedy.  I look around with changed eyes at the hundreds of communities who have suffered similar nightmares and wonder how one nation can digest so much violence and heartbreak without making the sorts of changes that so clearly have alleviated this devastation elsewhere.  In our great national shame and failure to protect our children, aren’t those of us who are silent also complicit?  I have said little, done nothing, never even reviewed my electoral selections based on this issue. Like so many millions of others, I thought this battle could not be won, that the forces of evil that block lifesaving changes were too powerful and too sickeningly wealthy to defeat.  And so I remained silent.

Perhaps that’s true—maybe it can’t be fixed after 20-plus years of murderous rampages in schools and elsewhere.  But perhaps it isn’t. I look around again, and I think about those high-school students, those bows on the mailboxes, those flowers, those police officers begging for change, those physicians marching in lab coats.  And I wonder if maybe enough hope, rising on the tide of tragedy, really could forge a different future.  Save lives.  Keep more families from the same agonizing losses.

The signs are out there, if we are willing to look, the signals that hope can rise alongside anger and grief and shame.  Is it time to look in the mirror and see if we find hope looking back at us?  Maybe, just maybe, the time is finally here when we, as parents and grandparents and friends and neighbors and citizens and voters, accept and act on our shared responsibility as an outgrowth of our unimaginable, colossal shared grief.

Maybe it’s time to have hope for lunch.