[An edited version of this post first appeared here]
“No Lord! Not again! This can’t be happening…”
These words blazed across my brain like a lightning bolt out of the blue.
Last Friday, the bodies of twin boys were recovered in a canal not far from a park and playground.
In that instant when the news broke, it was as if a giant neon sign had suddenly replaced my mobile screen that streamed this unwanted news. A sign that blinded me with a message so pressing and incandescent it couldn’t be ignored.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, another thought flashed through my mind the next minute: Wasn’t it just six months ago our nation reeled in shock at the news a 13-year old boy was stabbed to death in school by a 15-year old?!
Galvanised by the sheer incredulity of that unprecedented event in our nation’s history, I wrote a post that fateful month of July 2021. In it I struggled valiantly with words I desperately hoped could move us as a hurting community towards healing and away from collective grief.
But this time?
This time I have no words of comfort and healing to proffer (though thankfully there’s no lack of either making their much-needed rounds these past few days).
All I have is one simple word:
I plea we will withhold our instinct to speculate and blame, until we know more from the ongoing court proceedings.
Instead, we will turn on bended knees to pray for the victims and their loved ones.
I plea we will not descend into despair, anger or even seek our own brand of revenge and justice. To don the mantle of the ubiquitous keyboard warrior, and pommel out our vitriol into this seeming-madness that’s intruded our homes, parks, playgrounds and comfort zones.
Most of all, I plea we will not resent what we believe are the weak among us for failing to prevent this unspeakable tragedy.
For I know what being weak feels like.
Weak feels like me when the news revealed both victims were 11 and had special needs. For I HAVE a boy with special needs, who turned 11 exactly one week before this tragedy took place!
Weak feels like me when I learned that the man who is to stand trial is a father two years shy of 50. And I am two years past 50.
I can tell you in that moment of revelation and connection, I felt a chill down my spine that had nothing to do with the winds that billow through our parks and playgrounds this time of year.
For as a caregiver to my special son, I understand all too well those caregiving moments of weakness that test the steeliest of resolves and the often depleted patience of a fatigued father.
So I can’t and won’t judge, especially in this case when the jury’s still out as to what really happened.
Especially with regards to the father.
But I can almost hear everywhere the conspiratorial whispers behind the now-commonplace face masks:
“Aren’t fathers the head of the household? The man of the castle? Protector and provider? The requisite alpha male that defends, not destroys, the family? That can withstand anything life throws at him? However bad things get, surely there’s no cause for so heart-rending an outcome as the ending of two young lives while on a father’s watch?”
To these whispers I bring once more my plea, this time adding yet another simple word:
Please don’t go down that road.
Don’t draw conclusions without first-hand knowledge and experience.
Don’t cry out for blood. Or seek an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth.
In the Old Testament Book of Numbers Chapter 35, we read of God’s command to Moses in Jericho to carve out cities for the Levites.
Starting from verse 11, God instructs Moses to “select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. 12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. 13 And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there.” (English Standard Version)
Now we all know the story of Moses fleeing in shame and guilt after killing someone in an apparent moment of weakness.
So the irony of this specific set of instructions from God couldn’t possibly have been lost on Moses! The man who once called forth Ten Plagues upon Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and carried two stone tablets containing God’s Ten Commandments down a mountain.
But these verses aren’t about Moses.
God of Refuge
If the Old Testament God in His infinite mercy can offer cities of refuge to murderers until they stand trial, can we as mere mortals offer any less?
This unbearable tragedy should therefore point us to this God.of second chances who gave those specific instructions.
A God who shows infinite grace despite the atrocities mankind wreaks.
Even as our carnal selves desire swift justice for two innocent lives lost, our spiritual selves must rise forth to quelch that instinct and petition instead for care, understanding and empathy.
For communities of caregivers and their charges, who need society to be kind, sensitive and inclusive towards them.
For the family and loved ones left behind now to shoulder this sudden pain and separation.
Most of all, care, understanding and empathy for the father in a situation now no other fathers would want to be in.
These are situations I pray I will never be in, especially on days when I feel like my son’s shoelaces — one knot away from unravelling!