Reader’s firsthand sunset reflection on Las Vegas shooting

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 16, 2017

Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Fr. Max Oliva saw a sign of hope and healing in a sunset over the Las Vegas Valley. Photos: sunset by Max Oliva; inset by Warren Harbeck

A sunset  PS to the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas? What possible connection could there be between such beauty and ugliness? Author/retreat presenter Fr. Max Oliva, a frequent visitor to Cochrane, shares his firsthand reflection this week.

Actually, after my last two columns on sunrise/sunset splendour around the world, I hadn’t planned on doing anything further on that topic for now. All that changed, however, when Fr. Max sent me a photo he’d taken in the Las Vegas Valley only weeks after that unthinkable evening that left 58 people dead and 546 injured when a lone gunman rained down bullets on some 22,000 concert goers at an outdoor festival.

By email he affirms the wisdom with which author Linda Kavelin-Popov closed last week’s column: “Beauty awakens us to the eternal, and a yearning arises to mirror it in our lives. We are called to care for one another. We cannot turn away.” As if anticipating Fr. Max’s words that follow, she cites the Sufi poet Rumi in her November blog: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.”

A Jesuit priest and consultant on spirituality in the workplace, Fr. Max has just completed six years of ministry in Las Vegas and was in the midst of relocating.

“Providence had me in the city on the day of the horrific events,” he wrote. “The whole valley was in shock and disbelief at what occurred that Sunday evening: a terrible, senseless tragedy.”

But here’s how his Vegas friends scored the evening’s events: “Evil: one. Grace: in the thousands!

For example, there were “long lines of people waiting to give blood,” Fr. Max says. “One friend of mine waited four hours.” Other folks were providing those in line with food and water and taking “cases upon cases of water bottles to the five hospitals where the injured were taken.”

Interreligious prayer vigils were held. A remembrance park was established within days. Hotels “provided free rooms for families of those who were injured. Doctors and nurses worked round the clock. Grief counselors came out in force and volunteered their time.” By the third day, a GoFundMe account had raised over eight million dollars to assist victims of what is regarded as the deadliest such mass shooting in American history.

“The overwhelming support in the Vegas Valley for those immediately affected by the tragedy has given many a whole new way of looking at Las Vegas. The valley does have close to two million residents. No one should view the city just from the standpoint of the Strip any longer. It is a city of loving, caring, and compassionate people, as well.”

Five weeks later Fr. Max took a photo of a sunset in the Vegas Valley. It confirmed the score: Evil: one; Grace: in the thousands.

Yes, as Linda rightly notes, the beauty of sunrises and sunsets “awakens us to the eternal” mirrored in our lives by caring for one another. Or in Rumi’s words: “Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.”

Thank you, Fr. Max, for sharing these treasures of hope and healing that have emerged from the ruins of that one tragic evening.


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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