I usually don’t pay much attention to the things I see on the news. After all, bad things happen to good people all the time. Whether it’s a natural disaster like a hurricane or something entirely of humanity’s creation like a war, I hardly feel the need to be reminded the world can be a tragic place. It’s depressing, and for me particularly, it is quite unhealthy to dwell on things like that. This time however, I feel personally touched by tragedy, specifically the recent shooting at Marshall County High School. I graduated from the very place twenty or so years back, but that’s not really why it affected me personally. No, it affects me because one of the victims was a neighbor, someone who visited at Christmas, a young man who I’ve watched grow up for a number of years. Now he’s gone, and I feel the loss too keenly to ignore.
I tend to avoid overt displays of sympathy. I’m not so great at expressing my feelings in person. I’m not great at expressing anything in person really. What does one do to express sympathy for someone experiencing a terrible loss? The usual things, flowers, hallmark cards, pats on the back, all seem woefully inadequate to console a parent who has lost a child. It must be one of the most horrible, awful feelings a human being can experience. Words too, seem empty and hollow against a promising young life snuffed out in a horrible instant of evil. In the end however, words are all I have. I like to think my words are the best of me. I can only hope they come close to conveying the immensity of the sorrow that I felt when I heard the news. With that said, I offer these words for Preston.
It’s true that Preston was just a neighbor to me, and that I didn’t know him well, but I will still feel his loss. Often times when I was driving home, I’d see him in his yard playing baseball with his father or shooting baskets with his younger brother. When I made a trail through our woods to walk our dogs, he and his little brother made their own trails that connected to ours. My family made it clear that he and his brother were welcome to play in our woods. It brought me joy just to think of him out there playing in the woods the same way I once played in the woods behind my old house as a child.
Now, every time I walk that trail, I will feel his absence. Now, every time I drive by and see his brother and father out there without him, I’ll feel the same feeling of sickness inside me, the same emptiness, the same sense of injustice, the anger at being cheated out of something. The loss seems greater when a child dies. At thirty-seven, I’m not what most would consider old, but I’ve had my shot at life, and if God called me home tomorrow, I couldn’t say I was deprived. Children, however, are pure potential. Maybe Preston would have done something great with his life. Maybe he would have saved lives as a policeman or fireman. Maybe he would have brought us all joy by writing a book or making a movie. Maybe he would have even cured cancer or become President. One thing I’m sure of, he would have grown to be a good man, the kind we desperately need in this deteriorating world of ours. We’ll never truly know how much we’ve really lost, and that, most of all, makes me sad for this fallen world and angry at the person who wrongly took his life.
A wise man once said of funerals, “we don’t weep for the dead, we weep for ourselves.” I forget where I heard it and who I heard it from, but I have come to believe it is true. At times like these, I remember that saying, because it helps me cope. After all, the dead have passed into eternity, beyond the suffering and misery of this world. They walk on the other side, with God and with all the others who have gone before them. Their struggle is over. Ours continues. We remain.
It is we who feel the loss of our friends and relatives when they pass. We must struggle on without them, with a new emptiness in our hearts where they used to be. I remember when my grandparents died. I remember the tears. I remember thinking no matter how much I cried, it would never be enough to express the loss I felt. It felt like when they died, they took a part of my soul with them, a part of myself I’ll never be able to get back, at least in this life. Time and the worries of life may age our bodies, but it is these losses, these missing pieces, that weather our souls and make us feel all our years. Pets, siblings, parents, grandparents, friends. Every time we lose someone, we lose a little bit of ourselves, a little bit of the light in our life goes out.
All the wailing and all the tears won’t change the fact that he’s gone. There is no punishment our justice system can hand down that would balance the scales. No, not even the death penalty, if that is what is finally decided, would adequately redress Preston’s family and loved ones, nor any of the other victims, nor any of the other students who endured the tragic events. We will carry the loss with us, no matter what happens. I’m just a neighbor, and I know I’ll feel that a little piece of myself is missing. I can’t even fathom what his parents, his brother, must be going through. They must, as we all must, endure having another piece ripped cruelly away. We will go on, our heads lower, our hearts emptier. Our world seems to grow dimmer with every missing piece.