By Andy Christian Castillo
I saw an especially powerful image today that struck me, so much so that it will probably reemerge in my mind’s eye whenever I think of what happened this past weekend, for the rest of my life.
The image was taken at a vigil in Atlanta for victims of Sunday’s terror attacks.
Two men stand in the crowd, one, in front, is trying not to cry while holding a lit candle up in the air. His eyes are closed, his grip is firm yet gentle. Another man stands behind him, with his head on the first man’s left shoulder, eyes squeezed shut and a look of agony on his face.
Around them, people are also holding up candles, and holding each other.
I see such pain and confusion in their expressions.
When time looks back at this period in American history, that is what it will see — pain and confusion.
We live in a period of transition, and, in many ways, a time when social progress has lost ground. There are riots in our streets, protests at schools and punches thrown at political rallies.
Most recently, a man walked into a gay nightclub and killed at least 49 people.
A few months ago, a young man walked into a church and killed nine people — the biggest racially charged mass shooting in American history.
Children are gunned down in the streets, while politicians debate gun violence in pristine towers. Income inequality is at an all-time high.
The middle east is in turmoil. Russia is rising from the ashes.
A misogynistic, hateful and racist man is running for president, and winning. His competitor is under FBI investigation.
During the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, there wasn’t a larger shooting — think about that for a minute. How will history interpret our actions, or, worse yet, our inaction?
We are a defining generation — decisions we make today will have ripple affects for many, many years to come.
Time is changing quickly; turning backward.
From our interactions with family and friends, to the way we shop, the digital age has changed every aspect of human existence and social interaction. Perhaps the most striking — and frightening — change, is the disappearance of community and faith. With the entrance of social media into the cultural landscape, churches are disappearing, social communities are shrinking and belief structures are eroding under the feet of so many people, especially younger generations.
That, I believe, is why it seems like culture as a whole is floundering — there is no solid foundation to stand on, or fall back into. Instead, in the wake of tragedy, people are suddenly forced to confront really heavy issues of faith, belief and the unknown they haven’t thought about before.
Add into the mix the senselessness of violence that seems to have become commonplace in mass-shooting events, such as the attack in Orlando. Or, perhaps, it has always been commonplace, but technologies weren’t advanced enough to allow people to carry out the atrocities they sought to inflict. In other words, it’s not people who have changed, it’s technology.
A murderer might not be able to kill 50 people with a sword, or even a rifle. But put a machine gun in that same person’s hand, and that’s news headlines for weeks.
In these dark days, I have turned to the author of my faith — Jesus, whom I turn to when life doesn’t make sense. I cling to my faith, but I still wonder where he is.
Today, life doesn’t make sense.
I’m struggling to understand how someone could walk into a nightclub and open fire on innocent people. It just boggles my mind. And I think that’s how many people are feeling — they can’t understand the shooter, but they can relate to the victims.
The past few days have released a furry of opinions into collective social thought. When I surf Facebook, I’m confronted by anger on both sides of the political spectrum. Those who support guns point fingers at those who want more restrictions and ask why they’re using this senseless act of violence as a political platform.
But, what those finger pointers don’t appreciate, is that those who support restrictions aren’t just thinking at this incident — they’re considering the past, and also looking to the future.
They realize that this will happen again. On another date, at another time of the day, there will be someone, somewhere, who opens fire and kills innocent men and women.
These senseless acts of violence will continue.
And, I suspect, when they do, we’ll be asking these same questions, pointing the same fingers and talking about the same things all over again … and again …. and again.
Until something changes.
Andy Christian Castillo is the Founder of Ver・ism(s). He is a military veteran and student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he studied English. Now, he’s pursuing a graduate degree in creative non fiction from Bay Path University. In his free time, he plays music, writes poetry, gallivants around the world, climbs mountains and runs through the pouring rain.