by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

Public shootings at high schools, college campuses, shopping malls, city council meetings or church services have become more and more rampant in recent years. And following these tragic events, the same questions are asked, including: What reason did the gunman have for his deadly actions? We hunger to understand the rationale that leads someone to do what most of us consider as the unimaginable. And yet we’re quite certain there is no explanation that is justifiable. No one is ever entitled to takes the lives of others or make others suffer. Nor is one entitled to end his own life.

Whatever the reasons, these gunmen seem completely absorbed by a victim mentality, blaming everyone else for what has happened in their world. They have allowed themselves to believe they have no power, control or choice — feeling there is nothing they can do to make things better in a world they believe has been so unfair to them. There is hopelessness, bitterness, resentment, anger. And in the end, the gunmen perhaps feel their violent actions are forced on them, as if no other alternative is available. But they are wrong.

I don’t pretend to know or understand what goes on in the minds of these gunmen. But I have spent years trying to understand what my dad may have felt when his marriage to my mom ended, when I was 10 years old.

My dad wanted to end his life. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, this time he announced his plan to kill my mom and me before ending his own life. He revealed this plan to my grandmother as he stood on her front porch with a gun to his head. Fortunately, my grandmother reached my mom on the telephone to warn her in time for us to escape. I never saw my dad again. He died a few months later.

But I’ve often wondered what my dad was feeling that made him want to end my life and his. Of course, I don’t know and never will. But I know what message I would like to have given to him:

“Dear Dad,

“You are loved. Not just by me but by your Father-Mother God. You are wanted and needed. You have a purpose that should be fulfilled. Your life is important and worthy to be lived fully. You are valued.

“There is always a new day, Dad. And there are infinite possibilities — many you’ve yet to imagine and experience. Maybe your life feels totally dark right now, but darkness is always followed by dawn. Don’t give up. Don’t lose hope. Some changes may not be easy. But everything we face in our lives can lead to happier and better times — albeit sometimes different than we first planned.

“I will probably never fully understand all the reasons that led to the divorce. Perhaps there are many things that both you and Mom wish you could have changed or could have done differently. Maybe it is better for you both to move on with your lives at this time — separately. It doesn’t seem like it will help either of you to blame each other or anyone else. And if either of you overindulges in self-pity, you’ll never find your way out of what seems to be a hurtful past for you both.

“There can be a future, Dad — one in which you and I can still share special father-daughter times. I so want to have these times with you. If you take my life and your own, these can never be.

“Your life doesn’t have to be over. I don’t want mine to be. I really don’t think it possible for anyone to ruin your life. God gives you life, Dad. And God will help and guide you each day of your life. With God, you can overcome and withstand the difficult times. Only listen. Only be willing to open your thoughts to His direction, even if it means you’ll be traveling down a road you had not expected. God only wants good for His precious children. And that includes you, since you are a beloved son of God.

“You have a choice to make, Dad. Choose life. Choose to continue on your life journey and expect better tomorrows. Tomorrow will come.”

I never got to say these words to my dad. So, I offer them now to any of you who may be feeling that your life is over or who may be contemplating ending the lives of others along with your own. Please don’t do it. Choose life, my friend. And let tomorrow come. With God’s help, tomorrow will be better. And yes, it may take a few tomorrows before you believe me. But don’t give up. Don’t lose your hope.

Remember — God loves you. You are not alone.