A week ago we faced the reality of a previously unimaginable tragedy.

It was not unimaginable because of the scope of its violence, the premature taking of precious lives, or the shadow of fear cast over the hundreds of families enjoying the warm comfort of a community gathering space on a cold winter day. Tragedies like these are, sadly, all too real and all too common.

What was, and what still is, unimaginable is that it could happen here; that it happened here.

We are not the first and we certainly will not be the last community to confront such an unimaginable reality.

This tragedy has brought us great heartache. We ache for the lives of those lost, for Brianna Benlolo, whose friends called her a "super mom" and whose young son will never again feel his mother's embrace.

And our hearts ache for Tyler Johnson, a young man who overcame his personal struggles to find peace and who used his journey to help others find their own path out of pain.

Our community also aches for those who were at the mall that day — the employees and families who rushed into crammed spaces after gunshots echoed off the glass ceilings and reverberated in their eardrums. Their wounds cannot be stitched but instead must be healed with love, compassion, understanding and prayer.

But while we ache, we cannot let the pain — or the fear that produced it and that continues to feed it — define us.

We must remember the heroic acts in the face of this tragedy — the stories of those who selflessly put the safety of others above their own, answering a call of duty they never expected nor asked for.

The valiant work of our first responders, who comforted and cared for so many that tragic day and who continue to work to provide answers and protect our safety.

And our community leaders who continue to bring us together in these hours of our greatest need.

We must grieve for the victims and comfort their friends and families. And we must mend the wounds of others who through unfortunate happenstance had their lives disrupted and their notions of safety shattered that day.

But we must move forward together, one step at a time, one person at a time, offering whatever assistance is needed. Just as so many who were at the mall that fateful day helped others find safety, we must do the same for our friends and neighbors in need. They need our comfort, and they need to know that together we will come out of hiding and we will live in the light. We have no other choice.

We must come together as a community and say this tragedy will not define us or our future.

And so we stand together as one community, steadfast in our values and in our support of each other as we grieve, as we heal, and as we work to ensure our neighborhoods are safe and our community continues to be, in the words of Jim Rouse, "a garden for growing people."

Rev. Robert A.F. Turner, Columbia

The writer is senior pastor of St. John Baptist Church and a member of the Howard County Interfaith Clergy Coalition.

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