Violence is a breach in the natural order of things; to suffer violence feels like a rupture, like having something proper and holy torn apart.
The etymology of the word comes from the Latin "violare," which also gives us "violation." Theft. Rape. Murder. Abuse. Starvation, poverty and pollution. They are all forms of violence, all acts that violate and dishonor the dignity of the human body and spirit.
"God is life and everything that does violence to life is against God," the French Resistance activist Jacques Lusseyran said.
"Violence tears the fabric of life," peace scholar Michael Nagler declared.
Thursday, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez's violence tore apart the fabric of life in Chattanooga.
Ever since, in our own sort of Kubler-Ross kind of way, we have been trying to knit our city and ourselves back together.
We have mourned: prayer vigils, interfaith meetings, the wordless groaning so many of us feel.
We have tried to protect ourselves. Gun sales are up. Local military recruiting has seen a surge. There are calls to change the laws to allow recruiters to arm themselves.
We have lashed out. Through the politics of suspicion, we are projecting onto Islam all our fears, as if the Red Menace of the 50s was the Muslim Menace of today.
We have tried to make meaning out of the chaos. Naturally, without any instruction, we have transformed the location of the Lee Highway shootings from a place of pain into a flag-covered memorial so powerful that hundreds are making daily pilgrimages there.
Those thousands of Lee Highway flags? They are our symbols - our American comfort symbols - that help restore and reclaim the narrative and way of life that Abdulazeez tried to disrupt.
"I came out here Thursday night," said Wayne Hartman. "I felt it was my duty as a citizen."
Hartman, who works at the nearby airport, returned to Lee Highway on Monday, along with hundreds of others, as if called there for some reason they could not name.
"Would you like a Gatorade?" a smiling Kelly Brown asked.
She and Marcie Evans had used their lunch break at U.S. Xpress to buy as many 32-ounce bottles of Gatorade they could carry, and hand them out in the 97-degree heat. Why?
"We are a community that needs to come together," said Brown.
Not far from Lee Highway, the kindness continued, as neighbors watered, mowed and tended the Hixson yard of the Abdulazeez family.
"They're our neighbors," said Karen Jones. "They were nice neighbors. They would do it for somebody else."
In the Abdulazeez's small side garden, tomatoes hung on the vine, turning green to red. Soon, they will be ripe. Soon, they will fall to the ground.
There is the same sense within our city: how long can we hold onto our grief? At what point do these intense emotions fall to the ground?
While we remain in these painful days, it is important to recognize that while Abdulazeez's violence was specific to Chattanooga, this pain is by no means ours alone.
Our wound is also a universal wound.
Our feelings - grief, sadness, anger, confusion - align us with millions of people across the globe, who, through no fault of their own, suffer and endure immense violence as well. (Oftentimes, much, much greater than ours.) If our hearts could open wide enough, we would see that our suffering is also theirs, and theirs is also ours.
Under bomb-rubble and within starving villages. Through drone strikes and drive-by shootings. Under threat of drug cartels and genital mutilation. There are innocent fathers who are beheaded. There are broken mothers who watch their children starve. Each day across the globe, loved ones are shot by bullets just like Abdulazeez's.
Our grief must be a humble one, recognizing that the pain we feel is part of the pain of being human. Knowing this helps us commit to the abolition of violence: we would not want anyone else to suffer like we are.
The thousands of American flags on Lee Highway could also be joined by the flag of every nation on earth.
Each flag would be torn apart. Each person would be trying their frantic best to knit them back together.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCook TFP.
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