My emotional reaction to the attack at Ohio State caught me by surprise.
A Facebook message yesterday from my daughter sent my busy Monday morning into a tailspin. A situation the media initially called an “active shooter” had erupted on the Ohio State University campus at 9:52 EST. We learned later that an 18-year-old student from Somalia plowed his small Honda into a crowd, then jumped out and brandished a butcher knife. Accounts vary to the number injured, ranging from eight to eleven. A nearby officer acted quickly, engaged the assailant, and shot to kill.
Those of us far off from the incident didn’t know that. Like any mass tragedy, the situation was fluid. We were able to get bits and pieces of what was happening from different perspectives, some true, some not. It was only later when the press conference was able to fit the pieces together and assure us that what seemed like hours only happened in the crunch time of a few moments. In those tense hours, our minds worked as they have been designed to do; we reached back to what we have known before. We feared the worst and hoped for the best.
I told my husband the news through a shaking voice and tear littered eyes. Ohio State! We’d been there. Our daughters attended school there. We’d driven those very streets that flashed across our computers screens countless times en route to one daughter’s dorm. Our familiarity with the environment shoved us toward reality. There was not the usual intellectual detachment. This was real.
The rest of the day I remained shaken, near tears, and attached to my computer news sources with an unseen umbilical cord. Why the emotional reaction? Yeah, it’s terrible but Karen, seriously? You don’t know those people. Your daughters are long gone from Ohio State. It took me awhile to unravel it but five reasons unleashed my emotions that Monday morning.
The trait of high sensitivity
I’m a highly sensitive person. I cry at movies. I feel deeply. I over-react. I pay attention to voice intonations. I pick up on details and emotions others don’t. I’m the kid who was always told, “You’re too sensitive” or “Don’t take it so seriously. Some days I wonder if I’m from another planet, a kissing cousin of Deanna Troi from Star Trek or the proverbial porcupine, ready to bristle at any stimuli.
An article in the Huffington Post, 16 Habits of Highly Sensitive People, relieved my anxiety. I’m just wired that way. That’s me. It’s not a weakness; it’s a trait. Elevated sensitivity, like any trait, has a balance of strengths and weaknesses. My job as a growing human being is to capitalize on the strengths. So, yes, it’s ok for me to get emotional—within limits. My emotion choked voice is a reminder to those around me that this situation and the lives it impacts is worth caring about. Beside, being highly sensitive is supposed to make me a better writer.
My Work In Progress
My current novel in progress contains an active shooter. As I write the story, I’ve asked myself countless times: what would make someone do something like that? How would people in the crowd react at that moment? Later on? Do you carry the memories of such an experience with you all your life? How do you get over something like this? How would a parent feel who heard their child was in the crowd? How would a person of faith react compared to a person without the hope of Christ?
The news stories acted like a honing device, drawing me in, luring me with answers. It made me realize that I need to be a lot more careful in what I write. This isn’t Hollywood or the latest thriller on the New York Times Best Seller list. These things happen for real and people’s emotions are not to be toyed with. It was a call to be accurate in my description of emotions and reactions, accurate, delicate, and respectful. To quote a line from the West Wing, “We play with live ammo around here.”
It was real
Yes, my daughter left Taylor Hall eight years ago. But what if? How would she have handled the crisis? How would I have handled the crisis? What about the people I know who were there yesterday – the church secretary of my daughter’s church situated two blocks away. Where was the campus minister? Our dear friends Mike and Pam who minister to that church? What about the students the church and campus ministry work with? Were they safe? Did they have friends in the crowd? My daughter now teaches at another university. Could there be a copy-cat incident? My sensitivity bordered on worry and I had to do some hard praying to keep my overactive imagination in check.
A Call To Care
As soon as the news came out that the assailant was shot and killed, Facebook settled down. But here’s what I want you to catch. The crisis is not over. There’s still a lot of scared, sensitive students at Ohio State University. There’s some campus ministries and churches near-by who have an awesome opportunity to proclaim the peace that only Christ can bring.
It’s the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Final exams and projects are due. It’s a stress-filled time for both students and faculty, particularly for those who find Christmas depressing. For a crowd that congregated around Watts Hall, the holiday season will be laced with sorrow and confusion.
I went to my church’s women’s fellowship meeting burdened with all these thoughts. As I waited to start the meeting, someone ran in the church building. One of our ladies had fractured her arm in the parking lot. This dear lady has already suffered much from a hip replacement gone bad and two knee replacements. She still uses a walker. The future looks gloomy, for how is she going to get herself around with a broken arm?
I can’t do anything to help the victims of the Ohio State incident. My friend’s accident reminded me that pain, suffering, sorrow, fear, and confusion are all around us. This Christmas, those of us who wear the name of Christ have an open door to express in word and deed the peace, love, and hope we find in Jesus Christ.
God holds the future
When I woke up yesterday morning, I could have never predicted these two events. How quickly life can change. It was a sober reminder to make the most of every moment. I called my daughters and my mother that evening, making no bones about the fact that I needed to connect. All three phone calls were substantial.
So here is my challenge to you this day. Represent Jesus well. You never know what might happen in one day.