After the killing

After the killing July 24, 2012

I am off to Baton Rouge. I won’t return until Saturday. Pray for me, will you? I need prayer this week.

My girlfriend here in town called me tonight. She’s worried about all this traveling I’ve been doing — Atlanta, Seattle, now Baton Rouge. A couple of trips to Spokane thrown in for good measure.

Take your vitamins, she urged. Load up on ’em.

It’s nice to have someone worry about us, no matter our age.

It’s one of the ways we show that we care about each other. We call and check to see if you made it home alright. We call to see how the job interview went. We call to see how the daughter in Afghanistan is doing. We visit your mother in the hospital. We ask after one another.

Mrs. Blizzard used to come by Granny Leona’s most every afternoon. “Mrs. Spears, I’m headed over to the store. You need anything?”

Sometimes Granny would pull a dollar from the coin purse she kept in the pockets of her dress and ask Mrs. Blizzard to pick up a loaf of bread or gallon of milk. Sometimes Mrs. Blizzard would bring those items to Granny whether or not she had the dollar to give to her.

When I was a kid, it seemed everyone in Church Hill knew Granny Leona as Mrs. Spears.

I was in Seattle this weekend, attending the wedding of my nephew Gabe. My sister and her husband and Tim and I were in the lobby of a big city hotel when a woman walked right up to me and spoke. I had to tell her I didn’t know who she was. I felt bad about that, but I can’t help it. I barely know what town I’m in lately. Turns out she was a gal from up the street a’ piece. Used to read all my columns in the paper, said she loved my writing. She was in Seattle area visiting her daddy. We had a real sweet talk. I love that I can go to a big city and even there people will recognize me and speak to me.

One of my best gal pals from childhood sent me a note tonight. Said she had been at church and people were talking about that reunion we had at Rose Hill Baptist a couple of weeks ago. Somebody mentioned that there was one gal in the choir who turned out famous, what was her name? My girlfriend thought that was the funniest thing. She knew me back when I was wearing training bras. (Yes. I know. I still wear ’em). Anyway, my girlfriend told the lady that yes, indeed, I was famous. She doesn’t really believe that, and neither one of us cares two hoots about that anyway, but we had a good giggle over it when I told her I was just thankful that my mug isn’t hanging up in the post office somewhere.

I have never, ever, ever understood why anyone would want to be famous, and I’m too tired to try and figure it  out now. When you get my age, you are far more willing to just accept that there is some stuff you won’t never get figured out.

Anderson Cooper, who really is famous, said that some of these people who go around killing folks do it for fame. They become obsessed with themselves, and the idea that they matter in ways that most of us never even think about.


The man who went around shooting up that movie house the other night seems to envision himself as a comic book villain.

It’s creepy to think that people like him can walk among us everyday. They sit next to us in class. They work next to us in labs. They use the same stairwell we do. Or elevators. We might pass by them hundreds of times over a two-year stretch and never ever know their name. Or who their people are.

We don’t know if they need milk.

Or if they just need somebody to know them by name, the way the people in Church Hill knew my granny. The way that lady in Seattle did me.

Granny Leona was a crippled woman. I only knew her to leave the house a handful of times in all my growing up years. Once to attend my daddy’s funeral. A few times to go to the doctor. Other people did the grocery shopping. In Granny’s day, crippled people didn’t have access to the roads and the buildings the way they do now. Granny Leona was what the church people referred to as a  shut-in.

I think that fella who killed all them people was a shut-in.

He shut himself up inside some dark place and it seems nobody bothered calling on him there.

His neighbors didn’t check to see how he was doing, or if he needed anything. His classmates saw him there in that lonely place and they just let him be. They said he was a loner but I reckon we all are loners until somebody steps in front of us and says, Hello, what’s your name? Who are your people?

Because the thing is, we can’t know what anybody needs if we never bother to learn their names.

Until after the killings, that is.

I’ve been praying for that boy’s mama and his daddy. I don’t know their names but I know God does.



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  • Rachel Shetterly

    Beautiful. I don’t know if you read Henri Nouwen, but recently one of the daily emails from the Henri Nouwen Society was asking “who is our neighbor” and concluded that the one who is our neighbor is the one for whom we would cross the street. Perhaps no one ever crossed the street for this young man.

  • Modern technology makes it so easy to dismiss the need to connect with folks face to face. So often with such painful consequences. Thanks for this, Karen.

  • This only makes me think even harder how short our life is and how we need to keep our eyes more open, stay alert at all times and care for our family, friends and neighbors even more with each passing day. Reminds me of the poem Leisure by William Davies.

  • Gloria

    This is how we build community. I just returned from a week at an institute that was all about building community. In my opening remarks I read from a poem entitled “How to Build Community”. The last line has been haunting me for a week – “know that no one is silent though many are not heard – work to change this”.

    May God keep you safe in your travels and may He arrange more poetry moments for you.

  • TheRealZippy

    I’ve been thinking about his parents and “his people” also. Can you imagine their horror. I have often wondered if one person, just one singular individual could reach out with a kind word and prevent this from happening. I have an exchange student with me this summer and when I speak to strangers (as often as possible), she always asks, “did you know that person?” I like to believe that even though I don’t know them, perhaps I am the only kind word they receive that day. Hugs, prayers, and much love to you.