Long Days and Short Years

just trying to pay attention so I don't miss my life

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Part Two: Stop Shooting, We Love You

I was not there to witness the bullets, but I did witness the vows.

They were wedding vows to a beautiful woman made by a man who had been shot in the chest six days earlier.  For better or for worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health, until death do us part.  Familiar wedding vows, but never quite like this.

I sat in the row with my neighbors and it echoed, this phrase, until death do us part.  Until death do us part, between a couple who had almost been parted six days before vows were made.  Until death do us part, but not quite yet.

I sat and remembered making the same vow to the man who sat next to me, squeezing my hand.  Seven years ago we said, “Until we are parted by death”, and I remember that moment, those words, with perfect clarity.    This clarity is surprising to me because so many of my wedding day memories are now blurry.  But that moment I know, its sharp colors and lines imprinted in my brain by the gravity of the phrase.  As I spoke it, I was shocked.  How could these words be spoken into a day so filled–filled almost to the breaking point–with life?  At that moment death seemed foreign, impossible, and yet there I was, binding myself to a mortal.

There was no other way.  I knew it then, but I know it better now.

Last night after the vows were spoken and the couple pronounced, we celebrated. Life in the face of death, we feasted and toasted.

And together, we thanked God for another day.


Part One: Stop Shooting, We Love You.

It wasn’t fireworks this time.

Bang, bang.  We were sitting in the dining room, eating our Vietnamese soup.  Bang, bang, ba.. ba.. bang.  Our oldest was charming us—using her kid chopsticks, and showing us how she could pick up the noodles.  “Mama, are those fireworks?” she inquired.  I went to the window cautiously.  Two men, one our neighbor, were getting into an SUV.  The passenger was bleeding.

“I’m not sure what’s going on honey,” I replied truthfully and met my husband’s eyes.  He walked to the window and I smiled across the table.  “Do you like your soup?  You’re doing a great job with those chopsticks.”  I felt strangely untroubled, more focused on maintaining normalcy for my daughter’s sake than figuring how what had happened outside.  Our housemate came in through the back door, he and my husband walked away to talk.  “What was your favorite ride at Kennywood?  Won’t your sister (who had fallen asleep in the car and was now in her bed) be sad that she missed the soup?  We’ll have to save some for her.”

It took her at least ten minutes to wonder where daddy had gone, and we looked out the window together.  “Mama, are those police officers?  Why are they here?”  The police officers had blocked off the street and were shining flashlights at the sidewalk.  I took a slow breath.  “I think somebody got hurt honey.  The police officers are here to help figure out what happened.”  As they worked, the neighbor’s kitten rubbed up against their legs.  “Mama, look at Petula!  Can I go get her?”  “No, I think it’s bedtime for you.  You can hold the kittens tomorrow.”

Grudgingly she walked upstairs, still upset that the police officers were monopolizing the kitten.  A story, a prayer, a song and a glass of water later she was tucked in and on her way to sleep.  I walked downstairs.

My husband and our housemate were still outside, but I was content to watch from the couch.  I still felt calm, perhaps I was in shock.  News crews were everywhere—later I would find out that my husband consented to an interview.  Across the street in our pastor’s yard was a sign, simple with blue text reading “Stop Shooting.  We Love You.”  My husband pointed the sign out to the reporters.  “That’s true,” he said into the cameras, “we love our neighbors. We pray that everyone will be okay.”

It is, of course, both that simple and infinitely more complicated.  Why else are we on earth but to love God and our neighbors?  If I know anything, I know that this needs to be at the center of our lives.  Still, when violence comes so close to home, it is unsettling.  Are we being irresponsible parents?  Are the girls in danger?  In my head I argued with myself, “Jen, you know that statistically it’s more dangerous to raise kids in the suburbs because of car fatalities.  Violence in the city is almost always between people who know each other.  You do everything you can to keep the girls safe—physically and emotionally.  You can’t put them in a bubble.”

It’s just that some days I would really like a bubble.

Later that night my husband told me about the news interview and how he had prayed about whether or not to do it.  “It’s just so easy,” he explained, “for people to hear about a shooting in the city and to think, ‘oh, another shooting, same every night.’” He paused.  “All I wanted to say was: ‘Those were our neighbors.’”

There was laughter outside.  We went to the window again.  A police officer was using his laser pointer to play with the kitten.