December 14, 2012
I’ve been editing a story today about kids toys, written by one of our ace reporters in Stockholm. Jens. A man I’ve come to love. He used to write comic books. Like me, he’s now a father, tapping out a living by jotting out yarns for our newspaper.
In my line of work, it’s impossible to escape the news even when lost in a story about playthings. Today, as I edit, I am continually interrupted by the dispatches coming into my email box from our reporters covering an unthinkable event in Connecticut. Reports on the count of victims killed and injured. Reports on the shooter, his tools, his connection to the elementary school. Reports that I’d rather not see. A sample:
WSJ: Death Toll in Connecticut School Shooting Is 20 Children, Six Adults
WSJ: Connecticut State Police Spokesman J. Paul Vance Confirms 26 Killed in Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School
WSJ: Shooting Happened in Two School Rooms, According to State Police
A few minutes ago, after learning more about this tragedy, an image popped into my head of the newest addition to our family — Vaughn Tanner Stoll. Today is his ninth day on our earth and I can’t help but think he would be better off if he had just stayed tucked in his mommy’s womb. What a world we’ve invited him to experience. Where God’s will apparently takes such evil turns on a Friday afternoon less than two weeks shy of Christmas.
I think of Vaughn because I am reminded of the pain he was in yesterday and the similar feeling of helplessness I experienced while watching him cry out as I have now watching these dispatches come across my screen. What could I do but hold the boy’s tiny hand and look in his dark blue eyes and offer a few words of love.
It was the eighth day — the day of circumcision. Kimberly left me to stand with the doctor in the kitchen while she took the kids for a walk. She didn’t want to see our child in that condition — strapped to a table under the scalpel aimed at his family jewels. I didn’t either, but I stayed and experienced with him as much of the discomfort, as much of the cold air on an open wound, as much of the questioning why it needed to take place as I could. I clothed myself in his pain.
Then it hit me, just a couple of minutes ago, that I am more like Vaughn than I am like the father holding his hand. I am in a state of utter dependence. We all are. In the aftermath of tragedy, we are sort of strapped to a table and compelled to ask God one, single question to which there is never an easy answer: why? Why crush us like this? Why beat the shit out of kids in Connecticut or Columbine or Calcutta? If you can stop these things, what’s the point in standing there and watching them happen?
And why, against such a dysfunctional backdrop, did the author of the Lord’s Prayer prompt us to say the four words that seem so distant and, in some cases, so sinister and even sarcastic: Thy Will Be Done. If this is a portrait of thy will being done, we need a new artist.
If you get the chance someday, read Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger and you’ll find solidarity in the desire to punch back at God. The last paragraph, really, is all you need to read to get the gist of the entire story.
I love Twain, not because I agree with him, but because I empathize. To be angry with God in times like these is natural. To question him is to be human. To request a break from his presence is predictable.
But to abandon the first two words that serve as the preface to this prayer — Our Father — is a mistake.
As a father, I can’t always stop the pain that confronts my children, but I can choose to partake in their suffering. To share their burden. Yesterday, I would have paid my entire fortune to be the one laying on the table staring down the barrel of a knife aimed at my private parts instead of my 8-day-old son. No one offered me that option.
Perhaps he is a father like me, or a mother like Kimberly…at least in this regard. Perhaps he is the father who can’t always prevent, but is the father who longs to comfort. A father who stands next to me, holding my hand, holding my head, holding my pacifier.
Experience has taught me this. The depth of his love in times like these is so unfathomable that his presence and his emotion can easily be lost in the smoke of our anger and the fire of our disgust. He walks with us, suffers with us. And longs to intervene. And I am thankful when he does. He always does.
Where my will as a father would be to comfort those I cannot really help, his will is to heal the wounds of those who suffer at the hands of those who have no regard for his will. In giving us our own will, he turned over the ability to prevent what happened in Connecticut today. But, in giving us this prayer — thy will be done — he offers a path to redemption even when such a journey is unthinkable. He offers resurrection amid the stench of death.
You may not agree with my plan. But tonight, when I close the chapter that is December 14, 2012, I’ll do so holding the hands of Jack, Kimberly, Evelyne, and — thankfully — a Vaughn who is on the mend. And I will, with even more meaning than I did yesterday, say these words that mean everything in this broken world full of broken people prone to do broken things. Thy will be done.
John Stoll is from the Detroit Area and works as the Bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal in Stockholm.