|fter a week off for spring break, my 4-year-old daughter couldn’t wait to go back to preschool. On the drive to the school we started ticking off classmates’ names: “Jasmine, Audrey, Noah . . .”
“. . . And Austin!” my daughter supplied. Austin was frequently the subject of dinner conversation. For whatever reason, she adored him and looked forward to seeing him each class day. What we didn’t know that morning was that she would never see Austin again.
Giving her a last-minute hug at the classroom door, I greeted the teachers briefly, then left for work. They had appeared very happy to have the children back—a bit too happy, overbright—and gave each arriving child a great big hug. At noon that day I found out the awful news they’d been struggling with: 4-year-old Austin and 6-year-old kindergartner Anthony would not be back to school. On March 29 their father had drowned them and their 2-year-old sister, Athena, in a hotel bathtub in Baltimore, Maryland.
I could barely keep my composure that afternoon. Anyone who would have happened by would’ve seen me blowing my reddened nose, staring into space, or quietly sobbing. I felt crushing sadness, agonizing rage, and desperate helplessness. Later, reading confirming reports in the newspaper and online—and attending the memorial service—these emotions continued to burn.
I decided to put to paper thoughts that had been in my mind since the 2001 filicides of five Texas kids by their mother, Andrea Yates. My musings center around three themes: life matters; sadness and anger can be turned beneficially; and we need to commit to being lights in an ever-increasingly dim world.
These children mattered. To their family, friends, school, community—to God. All children matter. Scripture is filled with text upon text about how important children are. God indeed has a special place for them in His heart (Luke 18:16, 17), and yearns for them to grow into loving adults after His own heart.
These three youngsters will not have the chance to grow up. That’s heartrending. But life forces us to put aside some of the hurt, to allow God’s Spirit to wash over and through us. What it doesn’t force us to do is act as if nothing significant happened. As if they didn’t really matter. As if life doesn’t matter. It does.
What can we do? Take that pain and use it, remembering to comfort those going through crises, to commiserate, to pray. As Christians we must offer comfort. We have to forgive. We must learn to use our righteous anger, as directed toward the originator of all sin, to not turn a blind eye to others in difficult situations, but rather to stand firm in our faith and in our call to witness. But using that energy positively must also be done carefully, graciously, and gently. It would be wholly inappropriate for me to, for example, approach Amy, the children’s mother, and say, “Isn’t Satan bad? He’s the real problem, you know. . . .” But I could certainly tell her I am sorry for the tragedy, ask her what she might need from me, and do my best to acquiesce.
I can be a light to her and others, reminding them that this experience isn’t the final outcome. Justice and mercy will win out, and those faithful to Christ will be caught up together with Him, while Satan loses everything—forever.
Being a light bearer isn’t restricted to faith sharing and prayer. I can also do my part by finding out if this type of tragedy could be avoided. Do custody laws need changing? What about the current law standard of “clear and convincing evidence”? Should I write a letter to my state legislature? Should I start a petition? What are the laws on the books to protect children in bitter divorce cases? In homes with mental illness? Investigating and finding avenues toward improving the quality of our laws and lives is important.
No, my daughter won’t be seeing Austin this side of heaven. She will never be able to pester the nanny into taking her home with them after school. She won’t enjoy receiving two valentines from him on that special day. . . . As I dwell on the impact of their deaths these are things that break my heart—and call me to act—because Austin and his siblings mattered. Because life matters. And what I do now, from here on out, does matter.
Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of the Adventist Review.