Last week’s news of the massacre in Kenya left me feeling frustrated…sad…sorrow-filled. The gunmen reportedly targeted non-Muslim students on the Garissa University College campus, slaughtering at least 147 students and staff in a matter of hours. 147 dreams destroyed. Leaving 147 families and an entire nation in mourning. One of the purveyors of terror, it appears, was a homegrown religious extremist, a 24-year-old well educated native son who joined the Somalia-based al-Shabab, a militant group with reported ties to Al Qaeda.
As I read the news reports and viewed the photos of the victims – the young people whose lives were abruptly and violently ended – I was overwhelmed by sorrow and grief. There they were, their faces so full of joy, of hope, of happiness. They too were Kenya’s native sons and daughters chasing their dreams, preparing for their future. Some photos were smiling selfies, others were self-conscious and awkward snapshots. Happy. Loving. Alive. Hopeful.
The emotion I felt as I scanned the #147notjustanumber and #theyhavenames hashtags was similar to my reaction when I visited the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial & Museum over 15 years ago and stared at the 168 unique empty chairs placed between two pillars – one marked with 9:02 and the other 9:03 – the 60 seconds it took for our own 26-year-old homegrown terrorist to detonate his fertilizer bomb, killing 168. I can only describe the feeling as desolation…emptiness…profound sadness.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the museum staff is using this milestone to teach the next generation the lessons they learned in resilience. It’s tragic that 20 years later we continue to see similar acts of violence and inhumanity around the country and around the world. To honor the memory of those victims from 20 years ago, we are being asked to perform one act of service, honor, and kindness this month. Perhaps in memory of the recently slain Garissa students we can each perform two.