I was walking down a street in England when my phone rang; a voice from across the world was on the other end.
It was a voice I knew well, usually cheery and light. This time, it sounded heavy with emotion. I asked how he was. "Sad," he said. "Why?" I answered, alarmed. "Don't you know what's happened here?" he replied.
I didn't. He told me. A young black man shot to death in St. Paul, stopped on a minor traffic matter and reaching for his driver's license when a police officer fired his gun. Five Dallas police officers shot down in cold blood in revenge, picked off by a sniper who said he wanted to kill white cops.
I could scarcely take in the horrific events he described, one piled on after another -- so far it was from the peaceful street where I stood. As the sun glinted on cobblestoned pavement, he told me of the tragedy upon tragedy.
I hung up and looked around. All that surrounded me was peace: young people whizzing by on bicycles, backpacks on their backs; a white-haired couple with canes, keeping in slow step with one another; a middle-aged man walking a small dog who trotted smartly along the edge of a green park. It seemed so far from the turmoil engulfing my country at that same moment.
Shootings like these fill me with rage and despair. My younger sister, her husband and their unborn baby were shot to death, murdered in their own home by a teenaged intruder with a gun. Thirty-eight caliber bullets fired from a stolen .357 Magnum revolver cut short their lives. After their deaths, I argued and pled and marched, wrote and campaigned and voted, for reasonable gun measures that would help stem the carnage.
And then there was shooting after shooting after shooting. Oak Creek. Newtown. Ferguson. Orlando. Minneapolis. Dallas.
The targets were Sikhs, children, a young black man, LGBT people, another black man, white police officers. What did they have in common, except that their blood ran red when they died? And that they left a gaping hole of grief in the hearts of those who loved them?
What agonizes me as much as anything is that the names of all the victims may have already been forgotten, if they were noticed or remembered in the first place, by anyone other than those closest to them. Will we remember only the killers, and the fear or hatred or madness that drove them to kill?
That is the question answered, for me, by a monument in the place where I grew up: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. When Timothy McVeigh set off the massive explosion that ripped the front off the Murrah Federal Building in my hometown, it was an act of revenge against the federal government, which McVeigh despised. The "collateral damage," as he described it, was 168 lives, including 19 small children playing in the day care center on the second floor.
The memorial starts with photos of that day -- one like September 11, 2001 in New York: glorious and sunny, bright blue sky giving no hint of the darkness that was to come. A recording that captured the sound of the explosion plays. The rooms that follow show the aftermath of the blast: rubble, personal items dug from the debris, the frantic efforts of rescue workers. You read about McVeigh's manifesto of hate, his desire to strike a blow against the federal government for its supposed wrongs.
Toward the end, you enter a room with small displays honoring each of the victims who died. Each has a name, a photo, and a few items belonging to the honored dead. Baby shoes. A medal. A favorite stuffed animal. A graduation photo. Precious things, given by those who survived and loved and remembered them.
On the day I visited, in the center of that room was a box of tissues, set there for visitors who needed it to wipe away tears.
I saw it clearly: At the end, all the hatred and violence and twisted motives of their mass murderer fell away. His lofty goals came to nothing. Nothing was left but love and grief.