I’m currently working as a chaplain in a clinical pastoral education program at a hospital on Chicago’s south side. When I started, I worked in the emergency room.
My second week on the job, a boy was brought in. I won’t forget him, because when I learned his birthday, I learned that he was almost exactly as old–or rather, as young–as my little brother. It does something to you when a boy as young as your brother is on a bed before you, his whole body shaking, his side ripped open by a gunshot wound he suffered while going from his home to visit a friend. It means you don’t forget.
A guy had walked up to him and shot him. Simple as that. He was surrounded by friends when it happened, too, friends who helped him get to the hospital. And when he got there, I had to hold his hand, and pray with him, and help him call his mother when his fingers were trembling too much to use the touch screen on his cell phone. He had a mother, oh yes.
He was shot in a part of town with plenty of “concealed carrying.” Whoever shot him knew that. The perpetrator saw him there, surrounded by friends, and an educated guess would have told him the truth: that someone in that group was carrying a weapon. Probably more than one person had one. And they most certainly knew how to use it, and use it well, even without the proper credentials from the state. And yet that individual, knowing the risks, knowing that return fire was not only possible, but probable, walked up to that young man and shot him.
I hesitated to share this story. I have removed anything identifying because of the confidentiality of the pastoral visit, and hesitated to share because the body of that boy was as sacred as any I’ve encountered, an image of God struggling through pain to hang on to life and safety. But maybe my sharing his story, even in this truncated form, can lay bare the real meaning of the Greek word martyr. It means witness.
It’s an story worth sharing, because it is worth remembering the next time someone tells you that the way to prevent crime is for everyone to carry a gun. Because in this part of Chicago, many, many people are. And yet a man still walked up to this boy, this boy surrounded by people who could credibly be assumed to be “packing heat,” and put a bullet in his belly.