As bullets rained down during the San Bernardino shooting rampage, Shannon Johnson, 45, wrapped his left arm around 27-year-old Denise Peraza and held her close.
“I got you,” Johnson told her.
Peraza was shot once in the back and survived.
Peraza, who is recovering from her injuries, shared her story of survival Saturday with reporters to honor Johnson.
-Sarah Parvini and Cindy Carcamo
“‘I got you’ are man’s last words to co-worker as bullets fly in San Bernardino rampage”
The Los Angeles Times
I suppose a lot of you reading this have heard the story, either in the news or through social media. Shannon Johnson’s photo has been all over Facebook and probably twitter and other media outlets as well. It should be.
I know that in a week, everyone will forget about Mr. Johnson, about Denise Peraza, the young woman whose life he saved, and (tragically) even about the terrorist massacre which took the lives 14 innocent people.
That’s human nature in the digital age. Our attention and even our compassion in fleeting. Once the event has passed, we crave another thrill served up for us by CNN or MSNBC.
More’s the pity.
But what’s worse than forgetting the victims is vilifying them. You can click the link to see the details. This man’s life and the fact that he wasn’t Jewish (although the news media misidentified him as such) has brought all of the Internet trolls out in force, including people I have known (via the web) personally. People who are otherwise decent human beings who find it necessary to desecrate the dead.
Every time someone says it was the victim’s fault he/she was shot, killed, raped, maimed because of their politics, their religion, their gender, or anything else, when they were, by definition, not the aggressor but the target of aggression, not only do we excuse the person or people or groups who/that were actually responsible for the attack, relieving them of any blame for their actions, we reveal ourselves to be, at best, morally and ethically confused, and at worst, cowards.
This is a season of hope, or it’s supposed to be. Chanukah is a reminder that even in the face of overwhelming odds, God will help His people not only survive, but prevail against armies and evil.
Another such “morally confused” individual who also happens to “report” on television news media has expressed concern that Americans pray to an anti-Muslim God. I’ll let you readers decide how you want to interpret that sentiment, but I don’t think it’s wrong to pray, not only for mercy, but for justice. God can decide what is just, and it shouldn’t be too hard for those of us who have been studying the Bible for a while to have some idea of what Hashem considers just in the affairs of the human race.
I could go on and on quoting people I find enormously misguided and yet who much of the public seems to hang by their every word, but I came to give hope, not despair.
More than that, I came to talk about how all of us can give hope, using Chanukah as our basic template, whether we’re Jewish or not (and I’m not).
Sara Debbie Gutfreund wrote a small article for Aish called 8 Ways to Turn Darkness into Light. I’m sure we have been staring into the darkness a great deal lately. There is much darkness in the world.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.
Often, we respond to tragedy and despair with anger and outrage, and while this is perfectly understandable, it’s not always helpful.
Ms. Gutfreund’s list of eight items are:
- Practice kindness
- Reframe your goals
- Living “as if”
- Thinking creatively
- Look through a spiritual lens
- Embrace change
- Connect to God
- Love challenge
You can read her article to get the specifics, but it comes down to you and me having a personal responsibility to be the light that illuminates the darkness, to be a beacon of hope sweeping away heartache and grief.
This is the same message Rabbi Benjamin Blech was explaining and why Chanukah is so important.
Not only that, our Rav taught his disciples something similar:
“No one, after lighting a lamp, puts it away in a cellar nor under a basket, but on the lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness. If therefore your whole body is full of light, with no dark part in it, it will be wholly illumined, as when the lamp illumines you with its rays.”
–Luke 11:33-36 (NASB)
We have a very simple choice before us…simple to understand, but not always simple to perform. We have to choose if we want to be light or darkness. Which do you want to be and moreover, which one are you, based on your words (spoken and printed) and actions (the latter being more relevant than just what you want)?
Of course, often the people who embrace darkness imagine that they are actually representatives of the light. They’re sincere about it, too. No amount of talking, convincing, or arguing will change their minds or let them see themselves as the darkness desperately in need of light.
If some of them come along (and they have visited me here before), I know I won’t be able to convince them. Hopefully, they will show themselves wise and just hold their tongues (fingertips in the case of keyboarding).
Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
–Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Maybe that makes me a fool for even writing all this.
Johnson was identified as “a Christian who…dabbled in Hinduism,” whatever that might mean to you who are reading this.
But this is who he was to the woman he saved, Denise Peraza:
“This amazing, selfless man who always brought a smile to everyone’s face in the office … this is Shannon Johnson, who will be deeply missed by all … my friend, my hero.”
I’ve referenced a few people who represent the darkness but I won’t name the main participants, the terrorists. They’ve received enough recognition and I won’t give them more.
If I do want to preserve a single memory of this horrible event, I want it to be of Shannon Johnson who, while probably not a perfect person, and maybe you’d disagree with is religion or something else about his life, spent the last few moments of his life being the light. He wrapped his arms about Peraza and said, “I got you.”
These were his last words before his life but not his light went out of this world.
If he was and is a light, if, as disciples of our Rav, we also are to be lights, and if our Rav is a light, He is also the Light Who made it possible for one day’s supply of oil to burn for eight, purifying the defiled, returning the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to Hashem’s service.
It’s as if He said to the aged priest Matisyahu and his five sons, “I got you.”
Is it such a leap to believe, that when our own light is being threatened by the darkness, it can be reignited by those same words spoken to us?
When we cry, when our hearts are crushed, when we are overwhelmed by this nightmarish world, by overt evil that shoots a gun, and covert evil that kills with words, God whispers to each one of us out of the darkness, “I got you.”
Let your flame illuminate the abyss, banish the demons, and declare righteousness and justice for the oppressed and the grieving.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
–Matthew 5:3-12 (NASB)
“When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.”
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman