My feet are freezing as I sit in the coffee shop with my coat over my lap, wearing a black t-shirt and green hoodie, wishing I had chosen the black CuddlDuds to wear under the hoodie instead of the t-shirt. Normally, what I wear isn’t all that important, but today, it is. Today is the day when the residents of my small Midwestern town are wearing the local high school’s colors in memory of a kid named Matt.
Matt turned 15 years old less than two weeks ago. Skinny and blond in pictures of him with his teammates, he would have fit right in on my nephew’s baseball team. On Saturday, Matt was at a friend’s house. The details of what happened aren’t public, but somewhere, things went horribly wrong and Matt was fatally, accidentally shot.
Matt is the sixth teenager who has died since I moved to this tiny town less than three years ago. The first were two young girls who were electrocuted while detasseling corn. The third, another young boy who was killed in an accident involving farm equipment at his family’s place. The fourth was a girl in my congregation, followed just a few weeks later by her friend, who committed suicide. Now Matt. I only knew one of the kids, but my heart is still heavy.
I struggle to know what to do with this. I don’t have answers, and that is a hard place to be.
I am heartbroken for the kids who have lost their friend. I am sorrowful for the families who are never going to be the same.
Being the practical, Midwestern, Peter-like minister, my inclination is to DO SOMETHING about it. For all his mistakes, Peter, the disciple known best for denying Jesus right before his death, was someone who didn’t like to just sit and wait. He was a fixer. He asked a lot of questions that would have bugged most teachers. He stuck his foot in his mouth more often than he would have liked. He was a lot like me. He would have been right at home amongst my maternal side of the family.
In this case, though, there is not much I can do, few (if any) answers to find. I don’t know the family, and it would be presumptuous of me to step into their lives without invitation. Though I would be happy to do whatever was asked, I am out of my element on this one. The only scripture that seems to be at all helpful is scattered in the Psalms, bits of lamentation and anguish thrown out into the ether by the authors, often left unanswered, except for the acknowledgment that despite the sorrow, God is still God, and will be praised.
It is hard to praise in times like this. Truthfully, my heart doesn’t feel inclined to praise.
However, I’m choosing to think of praise as one of the things I can do. Wearing green and black while I am drinking my coffee is a way to take my stand with my community. It was an unspoken act of solidarity with the six other people at the gym today who were wearing it as well. In this time of grief for others, I can choose to be a voice of praise. However small, however seemingly insignificant, it is my act of defiance. The action that stands in the face of sorrow and hurt and says “you don’t get the last word here.”