December 14, 2012. Just about four years ago. Sandy Hook. Devastation.
May 25, 2010. Six and a half years ago. My uncle’s suicide by gun. Devastation.
I have never been okay with guns. They scare me in a way that I think should be normal for everyone but isn’t. The goal of a gun is destruction. Some of that is for hunting, yes. And as a meat-eater, perhaps there’s some hypocrisy in my thinking that all guns everywhere are bad all the time no matter what.
In my moral theology class in graduate school, our professor opened the class with a statement that comes back to me whenever I think about my position on guns: “Everyone is a fundamentalist about something.” This is my something about which I am a fundamentalist. Generally, I try to tone it down, to understand that people with guns don’t necessarily want to cause harm. In some sense, I think, we’re all coming at the issue of guns from fear: fear that we need to protect ourselves from something, fear that we will be hurt or killed by someone beyond our control, fear about trusting other human beings.
May 25, 2010, cemented my fear of guns and the people who own them. Since then, there have been numerous mass shootings. In 2012, in the weeks before Sandy Hook, there were two gun-related incidents in Minnesota that knocked me off my feet: a cop was shot and killed in a nearby town, and two teenage boys who were robbing a home in a different town farther away were killed by the owner of the home.
When Sandy Hook happened, I simply fell apart. Many people did. Mass shootings are unthinkable to us, and yet they keep happening. This one seemed the most unthinkable of all.
It fell on a Friday, that horrid day. I was set to have dinner with a friend. She wanted to go to this event called Tuba Christmas beforehand, something I’d never heard of and wasn’t quite sure I was in the mood for. We went anyway. The theater was packed, so we stood off to the side with some other folks. Tubas, euphoniums (euphonia?), trombones all packed the stage. They played Christmas carols, the deep resonant sound oddly comforting and fitting.
And then they played “Silent Night.” A woman close to my age was holding her baby and rocking him near where we were standing. I watched her and started to cry as I thought about the mothers and fathers who were having silent nights in Connecticut. Since then, I haven’t been able to hear “Silent Night” without making it a prayer for those who have lost so much.
Tuba Christmas has become one of my favorite events of the year. One would think I’d dread it. Following Sandy Hook, I descended into anxiety and depression similar to what happened after my uncle’s suicide. I got back on medication and into therapy and did more hard work of healing. Good, important things. And maybe that’s why Tuba Christmas is actually a joyful thing for me, despite my introduction to it on such a sad day at a sad time. It marks rock bottom and a way out.
It is, in some ways, a ridiculous tradition: low brass instruments played by professionals and amateurs. Some of the people who attend have not picked up their instruments since the last year’s Tuba Christmas concert. Some have been playing their instruments for a year or less; others for over sixty years. And yet, they all come together to honor the guy who thought that Christmas music deserved low brass. I love the whimsy. And I get darn near giddy about it. Okay, full-on giddy. Kid-in-a-candy-story giddy.
I’ve gone to four Tuba Christmas events now. The man who directs it and his wife are dear friends. That woman holding her baby and her husband have also become dear friends. And a few of the players and their spouses as well. It delights me.
Last night was the 2016 Tuba Christmas in St. Cloud. (These happen all over the country, so if you’re intrigued, look up Tuba Christmas on the interwebs and find one near you!) I bounced in my seat to the songs and clapped and sang where appropriate. I laughed, and yes, I got misty during “Silent Night.” This year also has mothers and fathers surrounded by silence. I thought most of my friend and her husband who lost their twins in late February. The girls developed twin to twin transfusion syndrome and did not live longer than forty-eight hours after birth. Devastation.
I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to wrap up this post. I mean, you’d probably like something positive from me at some point, huh? But what I keep thinking of is what a mixed bag it all is. This year has had so many ups and downs. Almost everyone I know is ready to flip that calendar to 2017 and not look back. Or to look back only very cautiously. My Tuba Christmas feelings are complicated. I jump up and down about it, and then I cry when I’m there. And I can’t help thinking that the first words of “Silent Night,” admittedly a song written for the calmness and quiet of a peacefully sleeping baby after the hard work of birthing has happened, are “Silent night. Holy night.” If you take it out of context, which I’ve brazenly done, and smash those silent nights of tragedy up against that idea of a holy night, there’s richness there. This season of Advent leading to Christmas is all about that smashing. A baby is born, but we can’t forget that the cross is part of his story. As I contemplate my writing and how it is being formed, I want it to be joyous, positive, hopeful. And it is, darkly so. But the reason for that is because it’s coming from experiences of loss, fear, anxiety. The holy crashes into the silent.