WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Pulled by a Fragile Thread

By Robin Tanner

“We are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
—Gwendolyn Brooks

A human hand holds a fraying, spooled piece of red silk

5:00 a.m. A child is stirring… and up. Now I am, too. We call out to one another in the dark hallway. Call and response, we find one another. She crawls into our bed babbling about a turtle, then requests Cheerios. My phone buzzes with alerts. I pick it up, forgetting myself as I tell my wife, "There’s been another shooting. Twenty dead. A concert.”

She replies, “Oh God.” Then a little voice asks, while crunching cheerios, “Who’s dead?”

We tried to sleep but I knew: The number of dead would climb (I was shocked when I got out of bed an hour later and it more than doubled). Calls for gun control and prayers would battle it out on social media. We would sputter facts about mass shootings. I knew it would be a white male shooter. Deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the ticker read* — as if both a contest had been won and that it might yet shake us from shock. Amnesia was already sinking in. Wounded Knee did not matter to the news cycle.

When night came at last, with its bedtime rituals, one child asked me quite seriously, “Will this kill me?” as they gestured to a hot light bulb I said was “dangerous to touch.”

Can I tell you about the world I long for? It does not include mass killings at concerts or schools, or black bodies riddled with lead all year long. It does not include lone wolves who seem part of a larger pack. It does not include wondering “Who’s dead?”

I want instead to live in the early hours where we find one another without knowing how, and crawl into warm beds with Cheerios and stories of turtles.

I don’t want to be right or smarter. I just want the slaughter to end.

The tender thread that pulled us together before daybreak led me all day long—fragile as it may be. I am tired and could go back to sleep, but then I remember all those mothers with an empty bed.

And then shock and then rage-spirals and then love once more. The tender, fragile thread.

I call the names into the dark hallway, whispers into desperation. Who is dead? I call the names of those with power to change this. I call my own. We, the willing, follow the threads to one another; past rightness and quips and tweets. We will find one another and persist past sunrise.


Gracious God, remind me of a love that is greater than unjust laws, greater than a gun lobby, and greater even than death. Let me wake in that love, live in that love, and move in its service. Amen.

*This claim isn't accurate: the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 was a large-scale, racially-motivated pogrom in which a group of whites attacked the black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. More than 800 people were admitted to local white hospitals with injuries and the two black hospitals were burned down. The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics was 36, but other estimates of black fatalities vary from 55 to about 300.

About the Author

Robin Tanner

Robin Tanner is a Unitarian Universalist minister, poet, and activist who serves as the Minister of Worship and Outreach at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, New Jersey.


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