BY ANONYMOUS, Guest Writer
I wake up to cryptic messages on my Facebook feed:
“Senseless tragedy. Praying for everyone.”
“I had just seen him Sunday.”
“This just doesn’t seem real.”
“I don’t want to remember him this way. I CAN’T.”
“How could someone do this?”
I’m sifting through these comments, trying to understand what everyone is talking about. My heart is racing. Is it someone I know?
That’s when I see the message in my inbox, a link to an article. As I begin to read, the wind is knocked out of me.
“Livonia police say a 19-year-old man assaulted his ex-girlfriend and used an ax to kill her mother and her new boyfriend, before killing himself.”
Brian Douglas White. Jacob Lee Burns. To most people, these are just the names of two people, a headline that dies down after a week. Faceless, indistinct, bound to an unimaginable tragedy.
But for the people that I know, these aren’t just two names. These were neighbors, people, FRIENDS.
“Police say Brian Douglas White was apparently upset over the breakup with the 17-year-old girl who lived at the home,” the article read. “Police say they believe White went to the home, killed Angela Kim Staperfene, the mother of the 17-year-old with an ax . . . [and] killed Jacob Lee Burns also with an ax. They say a short time later White shot and killed himself.”
There is so much dissonance happening, in my heart and in my head. How could this be? Friends are posting their pictures with Brian. They seem so happy, laughing, carefree. Is this the same person? They recount their memories, say their prayers, try to make sense of how someone they loved could suddenly become… this. A monster? They don’t know how to process the grief. “God makes us good,” one friend posts. “We do evil things, but we are all good.”
But there are other posts, those grieving deeply for Jacob and the girl’s mother. “My brother was one of Jacob’s best friends,” someone writes. “Why would someone do this?” A monster, they say. “Some people are just batshit crazy,” another writes. “It’s sick.” Again, the trauma is too much. There are Bible quotes, trying to find a different kind of comfort, one where Brian is not forgiven. Some hellish place, where murderers burn endlessly. One where justice is served.
People are digging deep inside themselves, sifting through personal faith, trying to explain what can’t be explained. Verse after verse, prayer after prayer, there’s no solace. Just a senseless, unbelievable tragedy. Our community is shaken, our hearts crushed.
Good, evil, good, evil. My heart aches. The distinction between the two suddenly seems less clear. No matter how we use the words, they never answer the ultimate question: WHY. Why would he do it? The one who laughed, smiled, loved. These absolutes–good and evil–don’t seem to function when we’re in the midst of this. There’s that blurry place, that gray place which we all seem to struggle with. The ambiguity is scary. It’s paralyzing. It doesn’t feel safe.
What do I believe? How will I pray? How will I mourn? I ask myself these questions. For a long time, I lay on my bedroom floor, staring up at the ceiling fan, dizzy with sadness.
I’m of the belief that we’re all connected–there’s an undercurrent of vivacity that we feel together, vibrations and lights and energy, a shared history that is woven together in ways we can only glimpse. The loving energy we put into the world is meaningful. We are not disconnected entities. What we do, feel, and give is not independent of other beings. We have an amazing capacity to reach others in beautiful, divine ways.
At this place in my life, I cope with meditation. I sit down and try to feel all of that energy. It is always call and response. My love, confusion, and sadness throbs in my bones. When I begin to ache, I listen. The quiet, yearning song of a bird, or the breaking of a branch beneath an unknown foot…the sun’s warmth against my back, the laughter of someone I love. I hear the shuddering of the leaves in the breeze, the chaos of a busy street corner. I remember the words of people who have changed me, and those who have been changed by me. I watch the steam dancing off of my coffee, recall the memories of a beautiful place, settle into the feeling I get when strings shift from dissonance to harmony, when a song reverberates in my chest…all of these things are answers. The different kind of “why”–why I’m here.
The laws of entropy tell us that energy is not created nor destroyed, but rather, changes. Take your energy, and create something meaningful with it, big or small or in between. Live in your sadness, let it pass only when it is ready. Walk away from these words, the newspaper or the blog, wherever you are. Visit a friend, paint something, write a song, take a hike. If you don’t feel like making something, just sit. Listen. Weep. Thrash. Dance. Live in the world–remember what the wind feels like on your face. Hold someone’s hand, stand beside them, breathe. In every moment, the world, the universe even, is trying to tell you something. Open yourself to it.
Personally, as someone who has gone to death and back, there’s only so much I can say. I can’t say that there is some loving, forgiving God, some old dude upstairs who’s going to give you a gift basket (halo, wings, chocolates?) when you die. I don’t know if Jesus will be there later on, to give you a high five for the good things that you did. I can’t say you’re a cat with nine lives, that this is only the beginning of many living forms. I can’t tell you if you’ll be a demi-god or a hungry ghost. I don’t have a verse to recite, a saint to look to. Those aren’t the things that I saw when I knocked on that door.
I can’t tell you that it gets easier afterward.
But I do know, with absolute certainty, that there is a light in all of us. I don’t know what it means. It’s the only thing that I saw. It’s torn out of you–a burst of sparks that comes together, and goes flying backward at a speed you can’t conceive of. When I almost died, everything changed.
The only thing I know, all that I can say, is that there is something so bright, and you won’t be standing still.
You’re going somewhere else, wherever that might be. You can decide where that is.
I think that all of the loving that we do makes that light in all of us stronger. I believe that with my whole heart. When we love others and love ourselves, we all begin to shine a little brighter.
Tend to that light. For you, for Brian, for Jacob.