Up until a few days ago, I had never heard of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Now, like just about everyone else in the world who has access to the news, I’ve become intimately familiar with the name. I don’t know what to say about the massacre; the horror and sorrow I’m feeling – the sadness I can’t seem to shake – isn’t unique. Anyone with a child – or a heart – is reeling.
I have not talked to my kids about what happened, with the exception of Kevin, and to him only briefly. On Friday, I lowered the flag in our front yard to half staff, and when the kids got home from school, they wanted to know why it was lowered. I told them that we do that to honor people who have died, and they wanted to know who had died. “Some people far away in a different state,” I told them. How can I tell my kids that someone went into an elementary school and gunned down teachers and little children? At almost 16, Kevin wasn’t satisfied with that explanation, so I told him briefly what happened in Connecticut, but I couldn’t even finish without having to swallow back tears.
I have refused to read any articles or watch any news segments about it – what’s the point? Nevertheless, it’s impossible to sign online without seeing headlines: “NEW CHILLING DETAILS EMERGE” and “VICTIMS’ FAMILIES REACT” and “PROFILE OF A KILLER” and “FUNERALS SET FOR THREE OF THE VICTIMS.” Words like “pimp” and “ratings” come to mind.
We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who
Comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam
In her eye
It’s interesting when people die-
Give us dirty laundry
– Dirty Laundry, Don Henley
I don’t want to know the details. I don’t want to see the photos of the sweet, smiling faces of those little boys and girls whose lives were so ruthlessly cut short. And I’ll tell you: if I were any of their parents, I think having the details and photos splashed relentlessly across every news outlet would be the last thing I would want. Even reading the headlines makes me feel like a voyeur. Is the media just filling a demand? Are we the people just feeding the media machine with our morbid curiosity? If all the coverage promotes meaningful discussion about the underlying issues and encourages people to lobby for change with regard to gun control and how we approach mental illness, then perhaps it will have been a positive force.
We let those teachers and kids down. We as a nation value our personal freedoms more than we value other people’s very lives. We are a nation in shock and mourning now after Friday’s horror, but it wasn’t the first school shooting here in the US – although it perhaps claimed the youngest victims. Mall shootings and school shootings seem to be gaining popularity – and this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other civilized countries. How many mall shootings, how many school shootings, how many people have to be senselessly murdered before we take a good hard look at the way we do things here and make meaningful changes?
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
– President Obama
The religious rhetoric is everywhere. I understand that people take comfort where they can, and it’s in the face of tragedy like this that, I suppose, the appeal and attraction of God and religion are at their most powerful, but if we lull ourselves with dreamy images of children running to Jesus and playing in paradise forevermore, we are doing nothing but living with our heads in the clouds, and effectively trivializing what happened. In effect, these fairy tales justify what happened, and they don’t encourage meaningful dialogue about important issues.
It’s starting to feel dangerous just to be alive. I don’t want to live in fear, but it’s hard to not walk around without at least a vague sense of apprehension. I deeply hope that this latest tragedy brings about meaningful change; if it doesn’t, then all those little lives cut short will really have been for nothing at all.