As Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire last week, Nathan Bell was with his daughter in a photographer's studio, as she posed for her senior pictures.
They were blocks away from Abdulazeez.
Bell, a local musician, wrote about the moment in his poem "The Lucky Ones."
"We would learn later that while she posed next to a clock, on a steamer trunk, more gunshots were being fired at a location six miles away.
"While time stood still on a giant clock, where she was leaning, five people died.
"Nobody was trying to shoot us today.
"We were the lucky ones."
It's a remarkable and achingly honest poem, and the rest of it can be found on his website — nathanbellmusic.com/family-man-the-blog. Turns out, Bell wasn't alone. Hours after the shootings, many Chattanoogans, all independent of one another, felt the great need to write poetry.
Their poems are profound. And meant to be shared.
"Chattanooga, 16, July 2015"
The crepe myrtle no longer means what it did
yesterday. The clouds refuse to move on. A single
dog barks in the distance but doesn't know why.
A slight wind blows a door open but no one's there.
It is as if the souls of the dead hushed the earth's
spin. Beyond the ridge, the river whispers its own
lament. Our words are broken bridges. Tonight
I've been fingering my father's gold oak leaf major's
pin by a small light trying desperately to expand
the garden. The cicadas stop, then start, hesitating.
He used to call them crickadees. What they say,
he said, was a prayer that needed no words.
The mockingbird in an upper branch must know
some secret the evening is hiding. A few pools
of light linger over the ridge. One star pokes through,
then another joins it, either in consolation or in prayer."
— Richard Jackson, professor of English, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
"July 16, 2015: Mourning Chattanooga (from Sewanee)"
Below the shrouded ceiling of All Saints Chapel,
We sit with saints collected in a prayer book,
In a speechless prayer for words. A garment
Of sorrow and light pours through the prophets'
Stained glass window. Centering prayer
Dissolves without a center; concentric circles
Collapse in chaos and unresolved questions
Empty of anger and emotion. I deconstruct
The Collect for the Slaughter of Innocents.
I reach into the baptismal font for the mechanical
Motion of the cross, then dip my Gideon hand deep
Into the water: the sound of many waters falls
Like a mountain creek: the baptismal waters of four
Dead Marines echo through this Sewanee sanctuary.
— Kemmer Anderson, English teacher at McCallie School
"Bridge Over Troubled Waters"
On the banks of the Tennessee River
we are bathing in our brokenness.
Violence tore through Chattanooga,
and we became a wounded city.
As we wonder how this could happen
where all should be safe and sound
let us sit in our pain and suffering
for this is the place of learning,
the place we begin to see
our enemies as our neighbors,
our home as the land of the free.
Let us bless the families of all who have fallen.
Let the tears of grief be the tie that binds.
Let compassion be the bridge to healing.
Let suspicions disappear.
Let dividing barriers crumble.
Let hurtful hatred cease.
Let it be. Let it be.
Let it be. Let it be.
— Alice Smith, local author
So this is what it feels like.
My neighbor, a mile as the crow flies from home.
Terror, a mile as the crow flies from work.
The lead story — shoving aside yesterday's news.
No, I cannot make sense of it.
What went wrong?
He "fit" in. Played sports for heavens sake.
Double consciousness perhaps.
I underestimated the power of an ideology of hate.
The toxicity of hate and fear.
The quarantine of good community failed to buffer the contagion.
And now hate is spewed.
"you can't trust any of them"
I see your logic of course. But hold on.
Steer clear of absolutes.
Did I mention that hate was toxic and contagious?
By my friends of friends.
By pundits — of course.
By trolls — who fuel and stoke that which they cannot contain.
By politicians — not from here — like buzzards flock to tragedy and exploit the fallen.
Defined by the moment or defining moment.
People of faith — Repair the breach.
Some will say I am nave to hope. Nave to love.
Tell me then what is your alternative?
Will you hate better? Perfect it. Hate so well the enemy submits.
Kill the 'lone wolf' into extinction.
You're smarter than that.
Honest hawks know well violence is not a deterrent of terrorism.
Quite the opposite of course.
Realism and discipleship are aligned.
The only way forward is love.
Required by faith — yes.
In accordance with reason — yes.
Love, steady as she goes, love.
— The Rev. Clay Thomas, of Rivermont Presbyterian
Contact David Cook at email@example.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.