On our way to the vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting, my 11 year-old daughter Aria asked me the meaning of the word “vigil.” She was quiet. Eventually she said, “Mom, it scares me to go to things like this with you.” Ug, I thought, what do I do? I could have turned around and taken my sweet daughter home, away from her fear. But I didn’t. I took a deep breath and said, “Ari, I know this feels scary. If we get there and you still feel afraid, we will leave. But I want you to see that in the midst of sadness and anger, people come together to stand up to ugly acts of hate. Are you ok going to the vigil?” She said yes.
When we arrived at the synagogue, there was no parking for blocks. The hosting synagogue expected 500 people. 3500 showed up. I finally found a spot, albeit illegally, and we headed in. My friend Zach, who works at the synagogue, greeted us. I wrapped my arms around him and he whispered, “Thanks for being here.” Faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities spoke, drawing from the depth of their own traditions. Aria sat next me, at times putting her head on my shoulder. God’s presence surrounded us, holding space for pain and sadness.
At one point, Aria asked me for paper and a pencil. I dug around in my bag and pulled out a scrap of paper. Ari bent over the paper and busily started drawing. She eventually handed me a picture of a little dog. Aria loves to draw. This was her way of entering the sadness with me. Inviting my daughter into this experience called out her strength and beauty, and abated her fear.
We need to invite our kids, age appropriately, to engage our world, in its beauty and its ugliness. The truth is, even though we try to protect them, they hear things. They feel the tension. We honor their process by giving them time to ask questions and voice their fears. What our kids really need is our presence.
Just be with them. Remind them that they are held in the heart of God: All children are loved by God beyond what they can imagine. Give them opportunities to see beauty emerge out of tragedy.
CS Lewis, in the Narnia series, said, “Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die, now let us take the adventure that is sent us.” Those words comforted me. May God’s peace comfort the people of Pittsburgh today. And may we move in the adventure sent to us, not alone, but with each other and with Christ, our good lord.
Jeana Pynes | Pastor of Families and Community Engagement