On Sunday, June 12, beginning around 2 o’clock in the morning, a man with guns in his hands and hate in his heart, killed 49 people, wounding 53, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
On Tuesday, June 14, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, banged his gavel, signaling all to come to order, saying, “The chair asks that the House now observe a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando.”
A moment of silence for quiet contemplation or meditation, prayer or reflection is akin to an over 300-year Quaker tradition. Often observed at the occasion of a tragic event, this ritual is intended as an expression of shared mourning and respect for those who have suffered and died and for their surviving loved ones. There is value in this practice. Words, however well-intended, however generously egalitarian, require interpretation and can be understood to bear an assumption about the attitudes and beliefs of those present. A moment of silence allows people, together always constituting a pluralistic group of varying individual customs and divergent viewpoints, to take part in a corporate experience.
On June 14, that moment of silence in the south wing of the nation’s Capitol Building neither lasted long nor masked the raging differences within the legislative body. A number of Democrats, later citing their frustration at the procrastination of the House on gun control and considering a moment of silence an empty gesture, walked out. Some who remained vocally sought to bring attention to the legislative inaction. Others criticized the demonstrators for their disrespect in politicizing a reverent act of peace.
I understand both. The frustration and the criticism. Yet I more than understand the suffering of the dead and the sorrow of the survivors, their families and friends, and us. I feel it down in my rattling bones and in my roiling bowels. Thus, I interpret that June 14 moment of silence as a metaphor, even more a microcosm of a long period of congressional do-nothing-ism concerning the crafting and enacting of sane gun control policy.
See the silent ones who wait is the title of a musical anthem that stirs my soul and spirit. It is a poignant, eloquent prayer bidding that God as provider, creator, and power act that all may be given food, wisdom, love, and dignity; each verse closing with a haunting refrain about “the silent ones who wait” for a blessing arriving seemingly (that word implying a trust, despite appearances, in the benevolent providence of the divine) too late to be enjoyed.
Our 49 sisters and brothers of Orlando are silent ones. So, too, 9 students of Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon, on October 1, 2015, and 9 folk gathered for prayer and Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, SC, on June 17, 2015, and 12 at the Washington Navy Yard, DC, on September 16, 2013, and 27, including 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, CT, on December 14, 2012, and 32 at the Virginia Polytechnic and State University, Blacksburg, on April 16, 2007, and…and…and…and…
In their deaths, they are silent and wait no more.
We, in our living, to the extent we remain silent, will continue to wait.
Footnote:  See the silent ones who wait, words by Herbert F. Brokering (19890, music by Cary Ratcliff (1992)