Can One Experience Change Us Forever?
Heather Mallick has a haunting article in the Toronto Star today that several colleagues have forwarded to me today. The mother of one of the children in the Newtown shooting insisted on an open casket. She hopes it will change people’s attitudes about gun violence.
Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.
Seeing for one’s self indeed can change us for life. For myself two incidents in my life changed me for the better:
The first is growing up in Yonkers in a working class neighborhood. When I was about 12 or 13, a young man was shot in my neighborhood, three houses away from my own apartment building. Ricky, who I didn’t know personally, had broken up a fight between two kids who were arguing over a baseball bat. The kids went home and told their father what happened and the father came out with a shotgun and killed him. It was horrible. From my window I watched them lift the stretcher into the ambulance. Ricky, still alive, barely, lay there mouth agape. I looked at my dad and said, “What the hell? This guy is going to die over a baseball bat. And why does this guy have a shotgun in his house anyway?” The guy beat the rap. Got off on self defense and received community service. I made a decision at that point of my life that I wanted to make sure that nobody would ever be robbed of justice again, if I could help it.
And sometimes, I feel…well…powerless to help those caught in injustice.
The second was my experience of Nicaragua. I made four trips to Managua, to work at an orphanage. We also went to a place called Chureca, the garbage dump. People lived in Chureca and I have never imagined such poverty. Cardboard used for walls with the word “Basura” on it. Animals roaming free, dogs, chickens, pigs in people’s houses. Many died of malnutrition and stomach cancer was also prevalent. I thought to myself, “I’m trying to live in solidarity here, but nobody should ever have to live this way.” It robbed everyone of their dignity, and they grasped on to whatever they could to retain it. We brought supplies, baby formula, foodstuffs and more…but it would never be enough.
My journal entry as I travelled home, said a simple phrase,
“Poverty shouldn’t exist. And in a country as rich as ours, we don’t come close to knowing real poverty.”
I took pictures that day in Nicaragua, like the one above and the picture of Ricky burned in my mind continues to remind me of the senselessness of needless death and destruction.
St Ignatius reminds us that we need to revisit “the pictures” of our previous day and then let those moments lead us into deeper contemplation over the consolations and desolations of our lives. Then, and perhaps only then, we can make a firm amendment to change for the better.
Today we pray to remember the pictures that change our lives. May those who see the violence have their heart changed, especially as we remember these children, Noah in particular. We remember those who die needlessly in war, war that our country has sanctioned and continues to destroy peace. And we pray for the poor, who suffer needlessly because of greed. May God teach us to solve the problems of peace and justice because we have seen injustice. May that experience bring us to work harder for the dignity of humankind. Amen.