The Parable of the Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

He watches the people lined up outside the club. People? More like swine. Robotic pigs, programmed to get into lines, to work and to sweat all day and then, at night, to rub their sweaty bodies together on a dance floor.

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

But it’s not just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

No one has ever kept their promises to him.

mass shootings

Photo Credit: Bigstock (ismagilov)

His parents always told him they were interested in him, but when he tried to talk to them, he could see the faraway-glassy look in their eyes. And they told him they’d love him no matter what. But he overheard what they condemned in everyone else. Would they really love him if they knew the things he really thought, the things he really did, and the things he really wanted to do? He thought not.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

His girlfriend had promised him forever. In return, he’d promised her everything. Then, after all that promising, she’d had the nerve to tell him her feelings had “changed.” That she no longer loved him. That it was over. One more promise broken.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The politicians promised prosperity. They said there was a formula to things: honest work, blood, sweat, tears, a house, a marriage, kids, and retirement accounts were supposed to add up to the American dream. But his father had worked like a slave for the company, and then the company abandoned him for cheap, overseas labor. The banks had robbed people blind on bad mortgages, and now his parents’ house was worth nothing. His parents weren’t dreaming; they were scraping by.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The church promised him peace. They’d told him if he went every Sunday, gave his energy to their programs, his money to their building, and his heart to their Jesus, then he could be assured of eternity. But his problem wasn’t fear of the afterlife; his problem was despair about this life. He’d hoped the church would open the trap door, showing him the way to a deeper, more meaningful level of this life. Instead, they’d just kept making empty promises about the next one.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

So, as it sits on the car seat beside him, he wonders, why am I hesitating?

Why am I sitting instead of shooting?

Yet, he knows the answer. The man. The man who’d taken him aside one Sunday morning at church. The man who’d asked how he was doing. The man whose eyes hadn’t gotten glassy when he’d opened his soul. The man who told him about someone who did know where the trap door could be found. The man who had sent him a book: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, by a Trappist monk named Thomas Merton.

He is hesitating because he is remembering the moment of Merton’s awakening:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I love all these people, that they are mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world…

This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was a such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

He knows these words are the fulcrum upon which his life rests and, on this night, he might tip either way. He could let his raging ego take over and do what raging egos do—destroy. Or he could risk believing one more promise. The promise offered by Merton:

You don’t have to do anything to find the trap door.

Because the trap door is inside of you.

And on the other side of the trap door is a whisper, calling you back to your truest self, back to your brilliant soul.

As tears of hatred mingle with tears of resistance, he recalls a moment of weakness after finishing the Merton book. He’d Googled “Is everyone shining like the sun?” and he’d found a quote by a guy named C.S. Lewis:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

He looks out the window at the line of people and tears of rage and resistance are mingled with something new. He has no word for it, but it is called grace. He remembers Merton’s promise, and he begins to listen to the muffled whisper coming from the other side of the trap door inside of him:

“Open up this door inside of you, this door which separates you from You. Come home to who you are. You are shining like a thousand suns. You are brighter than the brightest light. You are more lovely than you can possibly imagine. Come home, little one. Know yourself. See yourself. And then see yourself in everyone else.”

How long does this last, this moment like a fulcrum? It feels both fleeting and eternal—not long like a road, but fathomless like an abyss. He doesn’t go through it; he sinks into it. He falls downward and the falling is also a falling upward. It is a mystery too great for words but too important for silence. How long does this moment—this fulcrum upon which all of our broken and beautiful humanity is balanced—last?

Who can describe such a peculiar gift?

He opens his eyes and through his mingling tears, he looks at the gun on the car seat next to him. It’s not a just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept. It’s the promise of power and revenge and and finally feeling like he has an answer, that he is the answer.

He gets out of the car. He enters the club.

The throbbing lights are bright. But not as bright as him. Not as bright as all of them. On this night, the fulcrum tips one more soul toward its true self. And instead of firing a round, he buys a round. For everyone. For all these souls so luminous he is tempted to worship them. And finally, a promise is kept:

The promise of the trap door inside all of us possible gods and goddesses.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Susan Tuggle

    Wow…..

  • Cathy

    Beautiful. Thank you. We need to be the one person who connects, listens, sees value in the individual. We may never know the impact it has, but we need to keep being that influence.

  • Jane Meyers Hiatt

    Thank you, Kelly, for your beautiful words. As a Unity minister, my passion is to share this exact message with as many people as possible, that the power is within us. And the sharing happens when, like the man who showed concern and shared the book, we embody love with each other. I just love the image of the trap door. This blog is probably the most powerful, though indirect, response to what happened in Orlando. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Jen K.

    Thank you.

  • Kevin

    And that is where I believe the problem, and the solution lay. Thank you Kelly. As awful as any of the killings are, before it got to that point, those who committed the evil acts were hurting souls. I don’t think there is a legal or political solution to it. We all need to look within, find the door to ourselves, and then look to those around us and connect. Thank you again for writing and sharing this.

  • Ayo

    The gun is a weapon. The reiteration that it is not is so completely politically charged that it voids some of the rest of the purpose of the writing.

  • Absolutely stunning, Kelly! Thank you! Your most magnificent post yet!

  • Lisa Ahlstrom

    Yes Kelly! The elephant in the room that we are ignoring. Thank you for your insightful words.

  • Dave Eliason

    Interestingly, I just read my daily devotion from Richard Rohr and he was writing about this exact same thing this week. The transformation in our lives from ego-centric persons to all-inclusive persons is difficult and perhaps impossible for some but it essential in our becoming the persons God desires us to be. Rohr has written a book called “Falling Up” that is wonderful and talks about this process by referring to the two halves of life – the learning, acquiring and producing half first and then the giving, accepting and “being” half of life which follows. In fact it’s a slow read for me because I have to pause so frequently to ponder his rich and remarkable words before I can move on. I really appreciate your weekly blogs, Kelly. They are always very helpful and insightful but this one this week was especially so.

  • gloriareading

    Stunning and excellent.

  • Sara

    All the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I read this. So. Beautiful. And to cap it off with that CS Lewis quote – well. You have done something beautiful here, Dr Flanagan; thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Hi all, I was vacationing and mostly away from tech last week when this post went live. It’s really good to read all of our encouraging words today. I’m particularly grateful for them in relation to this post, because it was not an easy piece to put out there. I don’t generally like to insert myself into politically and religiously charged topics. But when this parable came to me, it seemed like a way to share the little glimpse of hope I see amidst our current sorrow. Blessings and trapdoors to all of you.

  • JC

    It seems a little dark but I get the point of the story. In my faith there is an answer to the question about how we find truth about ourselves and anyone else. We call it the light of Christ.
    Link here in case you want to read about it: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bofm/moro/7.18?lang=eng#17

    Some scriptures that verify we are children of God and capable to become like Him:

    Psalms 82:6 I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.

    2 Peter 1:4 4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

    Romans 8:16-17
    16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
    17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.