Late last night, a shooter opened fire at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., killing 12 people. Reports are still coming in. In situations like this, most Americans can only do one thing: think about and pray for the victims and their families. Yet gun control activists have taken to mocking this “thoughts and prayers” response as a meaningless dodge from the “real issues.”
Those activists need to read Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.)’s new book “Back in the Game: One Gunman, Countless Heroes, and the Fight for My Life.” In that book, the man who barely survived the Congressional Baseball Game shooting last year explains how much thoughts and prayers really did matter to him, and may have helped save his life.
“I swear, I could feel it. Even before they told me,” Scalise writes, after noting the nation-wide ground-swell of prayer for his well-being. “Not immediately, not all at once, but as I woke up and became slowly more aware of my surroundings, those thoughts and prayers mattered. Even the ones that came from people I’d never met before.”
“Maybe especially from people I’d never met before,” the congressman adds.
“Each time I woke up after a surgery, disoriented, in an unfamiliar room, with a different kind of pain and confusion, there were dozens more cards and letters,” he recalls. “I was being connected to people all over. There was a huge, powerful wave of positive energy following me, focused on me, no matter what strange place I woke up in. All of these prayers were giving me strength.”
“I couldn’t quite comprehend why people were taking the time to do it and what it meant, and to be honest, I still don’t totally understand, but I do know those prayers got me through some of my darkest moments,” Scalise insists. “Every time an infection set me back, every time the projected date of my release got delayed again, every time Dr. [Jack] Sava had to deliver disappointing news, there were people there to cheer me up.”
The whip recalls how famous people visited him, including President Donald Trump (who came on Trump’s own birthday), Vice President Mike Pence, Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, and even the owner and head chef of one of New Orleans’ most famous and historic restaurants. Bono even gave Scalise a call.
Most victims won’t get this kind of attention, but Scalise doesn’t just thank the people who visited him or sent cards. His whole book is a “thank you” to those who prayed for him, partially because at least 17 miracles needed to take place for him to survive the shooting.
“This book has been me trying to show you how many miracles had to happen for me to have this second chance and how many people played parts in those miracles. It’s me trying to explain just how much those prayers mattered, how powerfully I felt them,” Scalise writes.
When a mass shooter kills innocent people and makes national news, Americans can easily lose heart in humanity. Thoughts and prayers may or may not result in life-saving miracles the way they did for Steve Scalise, but they can restore victims’ faith in humanity and in the goodness of America.
While Scalise received support from so many famous people, he remarks that “more often, though, it was a letter or a call from someone I’d never met that pushed me along.”
Why? “The notion that a stranger would take the time to pray for me and cheer up someone they’d never met moved me, and it strengthened my faith in humanity after one deranged man had shaken it.”
“There’s something very powerful about learning people are thinking about you all over the country,” Scalise writes. “That all over this great nation, people are focusing their positive energy on you. It’s like beams of light coming through dark clouds, and so even while I laid mostly paralyzed in that hospital bed, hurting all over, it felt like I was glowing.”
Mass shootings are extremely tragic, and most victims are not as lucky as Steve Scalise. Americans will still continue to debate the best way to prevent them, and those discussions need to happen.
But in the moments and days after a shooting, what the victims and the families really need to hear has nothing to do with gun control or increased security in public places. They need to hear that people care about them, and that — no matter what you believe — people are reaching out to God on their behalf.
So, in the wake of the horrific Thousands Oaks shooting, let’s think about and pray for the victims and their families. As Scalise wrote, “People began sending messages that they were praying for me. People who believed in My God, and people who believed in others. People who didn’t believe in anything.”
No matter what you believe, send thoughts and prayers to the victims of the Thousand Oaks shooting. If you can, send a letter. Send an email. Make a phone call. Maybe, just maybe, you can move someone like Steve Scalise — to restore his or her faith in humanity. Maybe you can reach the God who used miracles to save Scalise, and inspire miracles in Thousand Oaks.
Steve Scalise is living proof that thoughts and prayers really do work.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.