On October 24, 2015, we were reminded that evil is ever present in our world. It has been a week since the tragedy struck the hometown of my alma mater, Stillwater, Oklahoma (home of Oklahoma State University), when a 25-year-old resident of the community barreled through an intersection congested with spectators who showed up that morning to watch the annual homecoming parade. I was standing about 20-30 yards from that intersection when the accident happened – I witnessed the horror of this event.
Since this event, many of my family, friends, and colleagues have reached out to me and my wife (who was also there) to check on our well-being. As you can imagine, this was a horrific event to witness – not just the actual crash, but the emotional horror that persisted in the aftermath. Those are the parts that I wish I could un-see the most.
A day or so after the incident, I knew I wanted to write about it. However, I wanted to give myself several days to think and process, and frankly, gather myself before I did. Today at 10:31 a.m. marked one week since this senseless act took place. Now, being one week removed from the tragedy, I feel like I can finally put my thoughts into words. Thus, below are 5 concepts that I have been trying to remind myself as I work on my own healing.
Evil is not from God. I have been working hard to remember this. This event took place because we live in a fallen world; a world where evil has an ever-presence; a world where evil lurks behind corners and stays just beneath the surface waiting for the opportune time to rear its ugly head. Evil has been present since the beginning of time (Genesis 3) and many lives have fallen in the battle against it. The reality is that we are not done seeing the work of evil. I will not choose to live my life in fear of it; additionally, I will not fool myself into thinking I’ve seen the last of it either. It is important, though, to remember that evil is not from God. This is often a hard concept to grasp in the midst of tragedy because we also know that God is in control. He could have stopped this from happening. He could have at least warned us, right? Absolutely! I, too, believe He could have spared us all from this disaster. However, just because He could have prevented it, does not mean He made it happen. Although it doesn’t make sense to me either on why He didn’t prevent it, I try hard to remember that God is not the “doer” of evil. But my confusion still lingers, which leads me to my next thought.
Faith in God does not mean NOT being angry with Him or having questions. The moment I saw that car barrel through the crowd and slam head-on into a traffic light post, one of my many initial thoughts was, “Why did this just happen? How could God have let it?” I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dealing with feelings of anger and confusion toward God. I don’t understand the events that occurred just as much as the next person. If God is the god we believe him to be – all powerful, all knowing, and everywhere – then are we tricking ourselves to believe that God doesn’t know what is going on for us when something like this happens. He built us. He designed us. He is the great architect of our human structure. Thus, God knows, first of all, we can’t control our emotions. We can control how we respond to them, but our emotions simply happen to us. As we experience life, we in turn will experience emotions. It is normal in situations like this to be confused; it is normal to be sad; and it is normal to be angry; it is even normal to be angry at God. God is not that naïve concerning our chaotic emotional design. So, to turn to God in our anger is actually a sign of strong faith (as opposed to an indication of “weak” faith). The book of Psalms in our Bibles is filled with songs and poetry of people turning to the Lord Almighty in their anger and confusion. I often see a visual when reading the lament psalms of a man beat and broken down, staring up to the heavens, shaking his fist, and pleading for answers – “Why, God, why!?” God wants us to turn to Him in our brokenness. He wants us to turn to Him in our despair. He wants us to turn to Him in our anger, even if we are shaking our fists at Him (see Hurting with God). If we don’t turn to God, then we are turning away from Him; to turn away from Him means to turn to the very thing that set this horrible event in motion – EVIL.
And as for me and my household, we will NOT let evil prevail!
Focusing on the “WHAT IFs” and “WHY NOTs” is pointless. In my experience with this horrific event, the “what ifs” could potentially drive me mad. My wife and I had considered bringing our children to the parade. What if it had been my child that was injured or killed? Who knows where we would had been standing if they were there with us. I had planned on getting to that spot earlier, but missed my exit on the drive to Stillwater, making us about 30 minutes behind schedule. Thus, the “good spots” at that intersection were already heavily picked over. What if we had actually been on time before so many people were there? I had originally set up our lawn chairs under a tree just mere feet from the traffic light post that the car slammed into. Before the parade began, I had decided to move down about 20-30 yards to get a better view. What if I had decided not to move?
I have also dealt with a strong dose of the “why nots.” Why did I decide to move and not others? I have had people tell me that God spared my life that day. Although that may be true, it forces me to ask myself, Why did He spare me and not the other four who lost their lives? Someone said to me, in effort to make sense of this tragedy that they take solace in knowing that any children that died are certainly in heaven. I believe that, too, but my thought is: There are plenty of adults in this world and at that parade that are heaven bound, so why did a 2 year old have to die and not someone who had lived a fuller life? Don’t get me wrong, I think all life is valuable, but I think most of us will admit that it is especially painful to hear of the senseless deaths of children.
All the “what ifs” and “why nots” you can think of are simply hypotheticals at this point. We riddle our minds with those questions as a way to try to regain the illusion of control, which we subconsciously believe will ease our suffering. If we could actually answer those questions with rationale and logic, then the events would make sense, right? Wrong!! No amount of information will, all of a sudden, make the events that happened that day “okay.” The reality is that we aren’t in control, and lives can change and end in just a moment’s time. Those of us that survived should honor the lost by seeking healing for our wounds and combat evil by living our lives in a way that brings joy and light to this dark world. Trying to answer the “what if’s” and the “why not’s” will only exacerbate the wound. You will most definitely come up empty handed because you are simply searching for a treasure that doesn’t exist – answers that make sense.
It is okay to be a mess. To be completely honest, I am still somewhat of a mess. It has only been one week since this awful even occurred. It would be naïve of me to think that what I saw and heard and felt has not impacted me. I am a professional counselor. I make my living helping others deal with things like this. But, counselors are still people with real lives and real emotions; and counselors live in the same dark world as everyone else. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t feel an extra sense of pressure to nip this in the bud and get my act together. Therefore, I have to remind myself that I, too, get to be a mess for a while. I get to struggle with difficult emotions like anger and confusion. I get to grieve the loss of life. I get to be afraid of the reality that the ones I hold dearest could be ripped away from me at any second. I get to lose sleep. I get to be edgy. I get to weep. This makes me remember one of my favorite stories in scripture - when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Although Jesus knew he was going to raise this man he loved dearly….and get to talk to him, laugh with him, and hug his neck again… Jesus decided he first needed to weep. People might say, “get over it” or “you need to move on.” Sorry, but I’m not listening to that gibberish! If my Lord and Savior can weep and grieve over someone he was bringing back to life in an instant, then I surely can take some time to deal with my hard emotions on something we can’t undo.
Good still prevails. Only a week removed from this tragedy and I have already seen so much good happen. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all those horrific events of that day simply not happen; or, at minimum, make it to where no lives were lost. But I can’t. All I can really do now is be a good person. I am reminded that good will win; and it will always prevail. There are more good people in this world than evil. Even the rival universities took it upon themselves to show that sports rivalry and competition is meaningless when it comes to human life. People from everywhere have come out of the woodworks to show our world that love and goodness is still alive and active in this world. And, right now, I really need to see that. Therefore, in response to the goodness of humankind that I have seen recently, I’d like to say “Thank you.” Thank you to all the first responders, including the civilian spectators on the scene. Thank you to the hospitals and medical staff that worked diligently to tend to wounded. Thank you to the mental health clinics that rallied together to serve the emotionally wounded (among them was Payne County Youth Services – where I attained my first counseling job). Thank you to all those who donated to the various GoFundMe accounts that have been set up – like the one for little Hadley Wyatt, who is schoolmate of niece. Thank you to the other universities who responded to this tragedy with integrity and class (University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and others). Thank you to the news media who covered the story with empathy and concern. Thank you to the blog writers who have written to encourage us and to help us heal (here’s a good one by my friend and colleague, and Stillwater resident, Whitney Warren-Alexander, LMFT). And, to everyone who took a little time out of their day to send up a prayer, I say, “Thank you.”
I don’t know if these very personal thoughts and insights of mine have been helpful to you. But, if you’re struggling to take anything away from this article, then please try to take this away. Don’t let evil win! Don’t be influenced by the works of evil by becoming a cynic and losing your belief in people. Don’t let evil prevail by turning away from God or what is good. Don’t devalue the lives lost in this tragedy by living a life filled with resentment and contempt for others.
Be sad. Be mad. But, BE DETERMINED!!
Take time to grieve. Take time to heal. But, be determined to shine your light, once again, on this dark, cruel world. Be #StillwaterStrong