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The Narrow Gate

When telling a friend on Sunday afternoon that I was going out to Vegas, I admitted that I considered it a sign that I have failed. Through all of my writing, begun anonymously out at Zaadz ten years ago and now openly here at WordPress, my hope has been that others would learn to do the things that I do.

He was irked, stating that other people pray as well.

But that’s not what I do.

I can’t document my experience. It started four days before my departure, and still continues. Time went into a blender. My body went forward on a linear track, moving through space into encounters that bridged to events earlier and later. Threads become tangled ever more densely, cresting with unforeseeable intensity.

It’s that tangling of threads that I am compelled to relate.

I knew what the outcome was: Paddock sitting with the gun in his mouth, gazing intently inwards beyond the metaphor of flesh to discern the personality that had broken his will. The flash of gunpowder blew a hole in its spirit, freeing the captives it had gained through violence.

But how to reach that moment?

The victims’ memorial was one pathway, but it also focused a wall of hatred against him. I did beneficial work there: in the first dark hours of Monday morning, rubbing the spasm-wracked back of a man mourning the stranger that he had tried to pull to safety, answering his repeated “It just sucks” with the tender mantra, “but you don’t.” Finally he opened his grief to me, and I gasped. When breath returned, I reassured him “Wow. Very good. That was good.”

As I fell asleep back at the hotel, I found again that moment of liberation, gathering the traumatized souls into my heart.

Waking at six, I pulled up the press reports to locate the Route 91 concert field. It was just kitty-corner from the hotel at the intersection of Las Vegas and Mandalay boulevards. In the days prior, I had visualized entering the field and kneeling before the stage. That seemed the most direct route into the trauma.

But faith communities were another possibility. I queried for Catholic churches, and learned that the diagonal through the field running away from the hotel ended at the Church of the Sacred Redeemer.

Expecting an early mass, I dressed and hustled down to the street. The concert field was inaccessible, cordoned by crime scene tape and guarded by officers in vehicles with flashing lights. I took the long way around to the Church, down Reno Blvd, hesitating at the cross walks to figure out how I could get through the cordon. The church yard was festooned with crime scene tape, but the schedule promised a mass at 12:10.

Backtracking, I felt the first deep surge of trauma as I walked up Reno. Catching my breath, I stretched both hands up to the sky. “Here. Here. This is where it hurts.” Washing the responsive grace slowly downwards, I found gratitude among the people and stretched back up to the heavens again.

Carrying grace and gratitude with me, I followed the hotel staff as they entered the Mandalay, stopping under the corner where the matte finish of the cladding betrayed the location from which the shots were fired. Stretching my hands up, I touched him again in a moment of calm in the days before the tragedy.

I took a shower and ate breakfast before heading back to the victims’ memorial. Chance encounters threatened to distract me: a young lady in a bright red dress standing in front of the elevator leading to the 32nd floor; two women at the table next to mine talking about blogs and event speakers; a blackjack dealer catching my eye as I tried to find my way back out to the parking structure.

I was anchored to the moment when the shooting stopped.

Heading back out to the victims’ memorial, I took more time in the sunlight to look at the faces, re-arranging the beads, signs and flowers to ensure that each was visible to the passers-by. A platoon of police officers endured stoically while tourists took selfies. Having finished my devotions to the fallen, I stepped forward to ask whether any of them had responded to the event.

I wasn’t surprised that none had, and normally would have disengaged, but the pressure that drove me brought me to ask of the man bearing insignia of rank “If it makes sense to you, would you represent them to me?” They looked askance, and I backed away. “That’s all right. I’ll walk by the concert field later.”

So I went back to the hotel. Feeling fatigued, I bought a cup of coffee and meditated to Snatam Kaur’s Jap Man Sat Nam and Ong Namo.

Then it was time to go to church.

The police SUV almost sent me away. I approached the officer to ask whether they had “shut them down.” Laughing, he replied “Far be it from me to shut down the Lord. Mass will be at 12:10.”

I entered and walked the perimeter of the interior, taking in the sculpture. I settled first in the back corner, furthest from the field, amid the icons of Christ. But a voice told me that I needed to be as close as possible to the external cross. So I moved all the way to the front, next to the statue of the Holy Mother bearing the infant Savior.

The service began with an apology from the priest. They had indeed been shut for the last week, giving up their offices and parking lot to the police and FBI while they did the crime scene analysis. The Paschal candle was lit in memorium of the victims, and the gospel would pay homage to the Good Samaritans that had done so much to prevent greater tragedy on October 1st.

And thus the gate opened to tears.

I can only bring back snippets. Sending the message into the panicked crowd that they should “run toward the cross.” Feeling Paddock, abandoned and demoralized, in the hours before the shooting started. Rallying those fleeing to “see each other” so that God might know how to marshal energy to guide the bullets away.

The great wash of energy rising from the cross, flooding across the field to enter through the open window to freeze Paddock with the proof that Christ had not abandoned him. The melody of “Amazing Grace” harmonized tenderly by the pianist, and the shocked hope of his realization that it was never too late.

And so it was finished.

As I left, I took the priest’s hands and stopped to pray:

Dear Father in Heaven: bless these hands, that those they touch may receive comfort and healing. Bless the mind of this man, so that his words may relieve confusion and bring faith. May all he encounters be inspired to open their hearts to the love that emanates from the Most High, and so receive grace and salvation.

To which, backing away, with a voice almost breaking in grief, he responded “Please keep praying for us.”

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