Last weekend found me in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, where I was able to spend a few days with my family. Monday morning, after the car was packed and my travel mug was filled with coffee, I heard on my car radio the devastating news that there had been a school shooting at a high school in Chardon.
Chardon is 3o minutes away from my hometown. When I was a teenager, I remember visiting Chardon's high school and watching as my sister's boyfriend acted in a performance of "Forever Plaid," a musical about a barbershop quartet. I remember eating a delicious burger at the Chardon diner. I have fond memories of Chardon.
Monday's six hour drive back from Cleveland to Chicago was daunting. I have friends that live in Chardon, have friends who are substitute teachers for Chardon, and not knowing who was hurt or safe was terrifying. I became increasingly frustrated that the further I drove from Cleveland the news reports became less and less about the students and more and more about whether or not we witnessed Jennifer Lopez's nipple at the Oscars.
I've made that drive back to Chicago quite a few times now, but it was never like that drive. Monday's drive was filled with thanksgiving that if this tragedy had to happen at a school near my home, it wasn't at a school where my mother, sister, or brother-in-law taught. When I finally heard from my last Chardon friend and realized that the people I care for are safe, I was flooded with a relief so strong that I am still staggering from the impact of it several days later. My heart remains conflicted that I am grateful my loved ones are safe when my community is grieving.
I'll never forget the day when my mother told me that they no longer only have fire and tornado drills at school - they now hold drills for what would happen if someone brought a gun to school. Chardon had such drills, and while I mourn with the rest of my home community for the lives lost I am exceedingly grateful that such drills kept this disaster from becoming anymore horrific then it already is. I am grateful for the ministry of those teachers.
90% of the time, seminary is exactly where I want to be. 90% of the time, living in Chicago feels like the greatest of blessings. Right now, though, while I hear from my bishop, synod, friends, and family about the steps that are being taken to honor the lives that were lost and offer support for the survivors I really wish I was home. I am reminded, though, that in moments like these we need to have well equipped leaders. My dear friend worked for the Celebration Lutheran Church in Chardon, and right now her former boss, a pastor, has a lot of work ahead of her. My bishop and my synod has a lot of work ahead of them. My community has a lot of work ahead of them, and what the world needs are healthy leaders who can stand strong in times of adversity.
We owe it to the people of our community who are working hard to move forward from a travesty to be the best leader we can be, to be living demonstrations of the most honest message of the Gospel of Christ. The people of Chardon, the students of that high school, the family and friends of the young students who died and were injured do not need another bleeding heart to feel sorry for them. They need to know that in God's eyes, and ours, their story and their healing takes priority over any wardrobe malfunction or movie awarded. They need to know that that we recognize their grief matters.
My prayers continue to the community of Chardon and all of their loved ones. May they feel God's grace and peace during this most trying of times.