Anna and Julio
Ernesto and Darian and Alessandra and Danyale
11,810. I think I laughed when I heard the number. Not because it was funny, but because it seemed so unbelievable. Both the quantity and the idea that I could type each of their names. Never one to turn down a task or believe something impossible without first trying, I set out to record the names of those lost to gun violence in 2016.
Michael and Kristina
We were putting together an educational opportunity entitled “Faith and Guns” with the intent of starting a dialogue and helping people understand the severity of the issue. This three-day forum would include opening and closing worship services, as well as time for reflection. We have a beautiful chapel in the building, and we wanted a visual representation, something to help people understand what 11,810 looked like. Among other representations, we came up with the idea of simply listing each name and age of those lost to gun violence this year. Although a complete database existed, there was not a list already constructed to suit our purposes. I didn’t think it was going to be a difficult task. Time consuming, I presumed, even with my faster-than-average typing speed. But data entry has never been characterized as a difficult assignment.
Latreash and Dino and Angelica and Edward
After one hour I began to cry. After one day I had to take extensive breaks. After one week my heart was changed. This database, you see, wasn’t simply a place where I could gather names. Each incident had to be clicked independently and many details were listed. The location, age, and circumstances in particular were the pieces I found hard to ignore. Domestic violence. Armed robbery. Home invasion. Accidental death of or by a toddler. So many children. So many tragedies. I tried to type each name prayerfully, both victims and perpetrators.
Matthew and Gladis
Unnamed and unnamed and unnamed
It didn’t take me long to understand that I couldn’t get distracted from my task. Stopping to read each incident was taking too long… After all, I had 11,810 names to record and time seemed to be working against me. It was also very painful for me to internalize not just the names, but the stories behind the names. I would go home at the end of the day and be emotionally drained. It was not long, either, before I grew fearful. Reading about these incidents all day for days at a time, I began to expect the worst. Every sound in the middle of the night became an intruder. People I encountered who had quick tempers became possible offenders.
Josie and Ashley
It got to where I was adding to this list in my free time. I couldn’t devote all of my work hours to the project because there was more to do, nor could I spend all of my work hours on the task because my heart simply couldn’t take it. But I pressured myself to make sure every name was present. Not that I thought people would read through the list. Not because I thought someone would know if a name was missing. I wanted every name present so that no person was overlooked – no person forgotten. Call it unrealistic or obsessive, but it was my attempt to give tribute to the victims.
These names are imprinted on my heart. They’ve changed me, and it is my hope that I can continue to work for change to honor them.
General Board of Church and Society
Global Mission Fellow US-2, Class of 2015-2017