Saturday, Dec. 13, was a night that started out like a lot of others — some friends getting together to catch up, eat snacks and play the game The Settlers of Catan.
Only this night was not like any other: It was the last night we would see our friend Nicole Mathewson — the last time we’d hear her laugh and joke around with us.
This had been one of many nights spent with Nicole playing Settlers. She would often come to play after working at the S. Clyde Weaver stand at Lancaster Central Market. She would bring something from the stand or a recent culinary creation. I still have in my refrigerator the jar of homemade apple butter she made for me.
Wherever she went, Nicole’s attitude, perspective and outlook on life were of selfless giving, constant thoughtfulness and community-building. Nicole was a friend to all and constantly looked for opportunities to show love to her friends, students, co-workers, neighbors and customers.
My feelings were a mix of shock, disbelief and bewilderment when our mutual friend Sarah — who was with us that Saturday evening — texted me the following Monday to tell me that Nicole had been found dead in her home.
Words cannot even begin to describe the thoughts and emotions swirling through my mind as I attempted to process the news that someone I had come to know and love, whom I had just seen less than 48 hours before, had been senselessly murdered.
How could this be?
I have been trying to figure out how someone who gave so much of herself in all aspects of life could have been the target of such a heinous crime.
I have slowly come to realize that the causes of crime and violence, as with most maladies affecting society — human trafficking, extreme poverty, domestic abuse, etc. — are always multifaceted and rarely simply or easily diagnosed.
As a registered nurse in an intensive care setting and an instructor of health policy, the mantra “things are not always what they appear” constantly resonates in my head. This has led me to be wary of conclusions that are often hastily drawn. The “noncompliant” patient, for instance, perhaps hasn’t taken his medications because he is living in his car and must choose between medication and food.
We should take every opportunity to educate ourselves about things that concern us, and consider how we might become part of the solution.
And I have come to recognize that the only way to turn the tide is to become involved on some level. We all must join together on common ground and begin to identify solutions.
It is because of the senseless violence inflicted on my friend Nicole that I continue to support and rally behind organizations such as SWAN, Scaling Walls a Note at a Time, which provides music lessons to children of incarcerated parents. Statistically speaking, we know that children with an incarcerated parent are more likely to land behind bars themselves.
But research also has shown that this risk can be mitigated when there is a positive presence in that young child’s life — even just one person consistently showing up and teaching violin, voice and piano lessons.
There is also Light on a Hill, a social enterprise of BIRD Ministries that works with women coming out of prison to provide job training as they begin the tough transition from incarcerated life.
Then there’s the Center for Community Peacemaking, which focuses on restorative justice and conflict resolution.
And Heads Up Lancaster empowers urban youth to explore their God-given talents and develop their passions.
These organizations and many more are taking bold steps to build community and in so doing can reduce the risk of youth and adults resorting to violence.
We all have a role to play in making our community a safer place for all. It’s a matter of educating ourselves and taking that step to say “peace starts with me” and “love always wins.”
Jennifer Oehme Knepper is a registered nurse at Hershey Medical Center and an adjunct nursing instructor for Eastern Mennonite University and the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. She also is chair of the Lancaster Alternative Gift Fair.