It was a baleful beginning to the week. On Monday, a former president and others received pipe bombs in the mail. A man in Florida assumed the seat of judgment and the only mercy in his court was the malfunction of his means of execution.
By Wednesday, dark clouds hung over a country where now you could be targeted for death solely for which side of the aisle you sat. Then, bursts of gunfire rang out at a Kroger store in Louisville.
Maurice Stallard was there with his 12-year-old grandson to pick up some poster board. Vicki Lee Jones just needed a few groceries. Both were shot repeatedly. Both were black.
Before their mourners could do them justice, a barrage of bullets at a synagogue in Pittsburgh erased the media memory of those two African-Americans. A self-appointed harvester of death mowed down worshippers at a Sabbath service.
In his blinding bitterness, the killer cut down 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, everyone’s “Bubbie” with her thick glasses and deliberate smile. He was equally ruthless to an octogenarian couple and a pair of brothers. In all, eight men and three women were plucked from the Tree of Life that day.
What do you say in the face of mounting horror? “Thoughts and prayers” seem trite amid all this discriminating death. There is outrage, blame and well-worn words of change, but they’re all hollow when standing knee-deep in violence.
Years ago, another Jew had an insight. The philosopher Theodor Adorno said, “To let suffering speak is the condition of all truth.”
In order “to let suffering speak,” we have to be silent and listen. We have to plunge into the pain of the victims. We have to sense the grief of their loved ones. We even have to touch the animus of the one who pulled the trigger or mailed the bombs.
The victims’ torment makes them real. The suffering of the survivors warns that one day it could be us. The rage of the killer lays bare our complicity in a culture where one’s politics, skin color or faith can forfeit the right to exist.
After the silence, we can pray, but not without tears. We must weep for the slain, those who remain, and those whose hearts are riddled with hate. We pray for ourselves, begging to be cleansed of any anger, prejudice or vengeance we hold.
Only then can we act for change with any hope that it will happen.