I learn their names

Whenever something tragic happens, the focus is usually on the perpetrator—who he is and why he did what he did. And while those are important questions to answer, what I keep coming back to are the people who lost their lives. The victims.

I’ll be honest, I hate the word victims. I mean, I get it, it’s not inaccurate and headlines only have so much space. But I hate how it reduces vibrant humans, defining them by how their lives ended.

Something everyone in the medical or psychology world (including my undergrad program in speech-language pathology) learns is to put personhood first. Instead of a “stutterer,” it’s “a person who stutters.” Instead of centering on the person’s condition or disorder, you center on their humanity.

And so in every tragedy, I try to center on the people who were victimized. I read their names. I learn who they were, that this person liked to hike and that one had two kids. It doesn’t change anything, of course. They’re still gone, and their families will remain irreparably broken. But it’s one small thing I can do to honor them, to refuse to let them be a number, a statistic of tragedy.

The people who were recently killed in church were people who thought they’d have a tomorrow, as we all do. They were thinking about Sunday dinner and worrying about work or school the next day. They didn’t know they wouldn’t have a next day.

So I don’t look away. I can’t. I look at their pictures and I read about them. It’s painful. Of course it is. But they deserve that small respect I can give them, a moment to acknowledge their humanity and mourn their loss.

If you want to join me in honoring those killed in Sutherland Springs by learning their names, you can read about them here.

When Tragedy Strikes

Confession: I cringe every time a tragedy occurs, and not just because of the tragedy itself.

As if the loss of life isn’t devastating enough, what makes it worse is the aftermath. The speculation, the debate, the blaming. In the blink of an eye, people’s deaths become a case study, supporting evidence for any number of agendas. People die, and the world explodes with theories of why it happened and how it could have been prevented.

I’m not saying that’s not a worthwhile discussion. It’s absolutely necessary to study tragedies to figure out how to prevent them.

But I’m saying, people died.

People.

Human beings.

Can we just take a moment to mourn them before we jump into opinions and theories? Can we acknowledge the human beings who are no longer here?

Daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, parents, spouse, friends.

People who had plans for tomorrow, and next week, and next year, who were looking for the opportunity to learn and grow. They had ideas of what they wanted to be and do with their lives. But those lives are now gone, cut short. They expected to have a tomorrow. But tomorrow was taken from them.

Today there are nine families who are forever changed. From now on, something will be missing for them. Someone. They will feel an ache for the rest of their lives, a burden of grief that will eventually lighten but never completely fade.

Their loved ones are not a statistic to them.

Every time a tragedy occurs, I read about the victims. I learn who they were. I guess I feel like I owe it to them to learn their names, see their faces, so they don’t get lost in the noise, buried by a mountain of opinions and political maneuvers.

I’m all for solving problems. I’m all for preventing tragedy. But let’s not lose our humanity in the process.

Today I acknowledge the lives of Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Anspach, Rebecka Carnes, Quinn Cooper, Kim Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Johnson, Lawrence Levine, and Sarena Moore. (You can read more about them here.) My prayers are with their families.