The Jonesboro Tragedy: A Tribute to Shannon Wright

Aristotle was right when he taught that oneís character is simply the habits of behavior she or he has learned in responding to certain situations. Thus people train themselves to be honest in the little things by giving back too much change at a store register or to keep their promises by extending themselves and doing inconvenient things in order to honor their word. Thereby, said Aristotle, one comes to have the character of honesty, integrity, and so on.

People who donít discipline themselves in lifeís "little things" seldom act virtuously or heroically when great moments of crisis come. The coward shows himself cowardly. The person with too little regard for the truth tells a lie. The person who doesnít respect others and their property will steal.

On the other hand, the person who has learned unselfishness, caring, and love for others in the daily routine will act bravely in a crisis. He may throw himself on a grenade to save his platoon in war. Or she may throw herself in front of a child when she hears gunfire or sees a rifle pointed at that child.

I thought of all this last week when I read the following headline in USA Today: "Teacherís heroic act was part of her character." The story was about the selfless act of Shannon Wright that cost her her life ó but saved little Emma Pittman.

Mitchell and Shannon Wright were members of the Bono Church of Christ in Bono, Arkansas. The other teacher who was shot in the same heartbreaking sequence of events was Lynette Thetford, the wife of one of the elders of the same congregation. An 11-year-old girl from the same church, Candice Porter, was one of the several students shot during the ordeal.

In his sermon to the Bono congregation on the Sunday following the school shootings, Benny Baker told the assembled believers that understanding what had happened was not their responsibility. Indeed, for how does one make sense of senseless behavior! "Our responsibility is simply summed up in responding . . . because thatís what God calls his people to do." His wise counsel sounds very much like what Jesus told his disciples who were debating a manís blindness. It was not their place to debate his circumstances, the Lord said, but to "do the work of him who sent me . . . as long as it is day" (John 9:1ff).

Jesus told his disciples that their theological wrangling over the meaning of blindness, storms, or violence against children were not as important as doing something practical to relieve the pain of those involved. So Jesus proceeded to heal that man who had been blind from birth. Even when we canít restore sight, stop storms, or turn back the clock on the Jonesboro shootings, we can respond with compassion. We can pray for God to comfort the hurting. And we can try to learn lessons from what has happened.

Four little girls are dead ó Natalie Brooks, Paige Herring, Brittany Varner, and Stephanie Johnson. Nine other students and a teacher are recovering from wounds. All their classmates are having to deal with fears, insecurities, and memories.

But one little girl, Emma Pittman, is alive because of Shannon Wrightís heroic act of unselfishness. What Mrs. Wright did was the noblest and most beautiful thing that took place last Tuesday in Jonesboro, Arkansas. And she never gave it a thought! She didnít debate with herself about protecting the child. She simply acted "in character" ó and in true likeness to the One who put himself in harmís way for her on a Roman cross.

Jonesboro canít be undone. But we can pray for its victims. We can celebrate the selflessness of Shannon Wright and be warned by her deed not to be so cynical about humankind as we sometimes tend to be. There are still some wonderful, unselfish people in this fallen, sinful world.

I wish all of us could have known Shannon Wright. She would have been a wonderful influence on us. Some of her character might have rubbed off on us. When we see her in heaven, we can let her know that her beautiful deed of love inspired all of us to renew our resolve about building a selfless, Christ-like character.

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