The date is May 1st, 2010. My boyfriend (now-husband) and I have just finished dinner at the Queen of Sheba, one of our favorite restaurants in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan. Our stomachs are increasingly full as the injera (bread) expands inside of us and we decide to walk off some of the fullness by taking a trip to Times Square. Even though we have lived in the Bronx for many years, we have never been to Times Square together.
The streets leading to Times Square are unusually quiet, which is pleasant for our date night, but also slightly unsettling. We round a corner and enter the square. It is eerily quiet and empty except for a group of emergency vehicles parked close by on our right. Thoroughly confused, I look up to read the ABC news feed that cycles continuously above us. Nothing there explains the strange desertion of one of America’s busiest places. I lower my eyes and see a crowd of people behind a barricade looking into the square. Then I see another barricade further down the street and turning, I see police setting up another gate blocking the street we have just walked down.
We run towards the nearest barricade and the police help us crawl around the metal gates. We ask them what is happening but they say that they cannot discuss it. Afraid to wait there, we walk quickly north towards Central Park. After walking a few blocks, we encounter another barricade that is blocking traffic and pedestrians from entering the area that we are trying to leave. A fireman at this barricade is more willing to talk: “There’s a bomb.” We don’t stop again until we reach Central Park. Then, using my boyfriend’s phone, we anxiously search the internet to find out what is happening and where it is safe to go next.
Amazingly, thanks to God’s grace and two street vendors, no one was hurt in the attempted bombing of Times Square on May 1st, 2010. I am obviously very thankful for that since my husband and I were there. To be honest, though, I haven’t thought much about that day in quite some time. My memories of it hid somewhere in my brain and made me hesitant to attend First Night and Fourth of July celebrations in big cities but were otherwise forgotten. Then, yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that night. I was frustrated by the lack of Christian charity in an online conversation about immigrants from Islamic countries and I wrote that I felt we needed to be more forgiving and let go of our hatred. Someone responded to my comment by saying that he would remember to pray for the people who come to kill me and my family and not shoot them.
I’ll admit, I was annoyed by this response, even though I am fully aware that people often post things online that they do not mean. However, as I thought about this man’s response, I realized that I had two conflicting emotions about what he had written. On the one hand, I was angry that someone would even joke about not protecting my family. The situation that the online poster described was not hypothetical for me. Someone already has come to kill me and my now-family. His name is Faisal Shahzad and there is no way around the fact that he wanted me and countless others dead. On May 1st, 2010, the human part of me would have felt nothing but relief if someone had shot Mr. Shahzad before he parked the SUV that contained the bomb.
On the other hand, I am now a mom who has lost her baby. I know how much it hurts to be separated from a child, even if it is just until Heaven. What if Mr. Shahzad had been killed on May 1st and did not know the truth? What if He didn’t have the chance to entrust himself to Jesus, to accept forgiveness for his sins, to secure his eternity? What if he was damned to a forever spent in Hell, separated from the God who created him, who died for him, who loves him? What if God lost his precious child for all eternity? I would never want God to suffer that loss. Never, never! I know only a fraction of the pain that such a loss would cause and it is a truly terrible pain.
Initially, I puzzled over whether or not killing is ever justified. I still do not have an answer for that question, but I think that what God really wants me to know is a lot less practical than that. It is not about anything we can or cannot do. It is not even about what we should or should not do. It is about knowing Him more, seeing His heart in a different way. It is about understanding that while Jesus was a “man of sorrows,” God is a God of sorrows who grieves deeply when His children do not seek Him. He grieves for all of His lost children, even those who want to kill us. God is a bereaved God.
I believe that God wants me to share His grief for His lost children, so last night I prayed for Faisal Shahzad, the man who tried to kill me. I prayed that God will not have to suffer the pain of losing him forever. I prayed that someday, when I am walking around in Heaven, I will meet Mr. Shahzad. I prayed for the chance to hug him and to tell him that I am so very glad to see him in Heaven. I prayed that I will be able to tell him that he is the beloved son of his Father and, therefore, my beloved brother. Please don’t think that my praying this is at all extraordinary. It is easy to pray this for someone who tried to kill you six years ago and failed. The true challenge is praying these things for those who want to hurt us today and it is a challenge that each of us is called to. May we have the strength to meet this challenge!