I’ve written and re-written this story a hundred times over the last few days. I could probably spend another month working on it, and still not get it right. I’m usually good at capturing my thoughts on the page, but this time the right words seek to elude me. This isn’t perfect, and it isn’t finished, but I need it to be done for now. I need to set these pages down and start moving ahead.
I fear for our country and our society. Something is metastasizing in our culture, nudging us ever closer to a comfortable darkness of the soul. It speaks to the coarseness and cynicism growing around us, and the innocence we have all lost. Unless it is addressed, I fear the best outcome we can hope to face is one of division and discord. What is it, you ask? Guns? 2nd Amendment rights? Neither – or perhaps both. No, what I’m talking about is the politicization of every aspect of our lives.
On Friday morning, December 14th, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opened fire on the students and staff there – killing 20 children and 6 adults. He then took his own life. He also did much more; he took something from all of us. He set in motion a tidal wave of grief, introspection, sorrow, disbelief – and crass opportunism.
As the bodies still lie in the school, news organization rushed to put information out on the airwaves, no matter how inaccurate or sensational. As we all began to cry out for answers, some saw a void left by the silencing of 26 voices and began to fill it with a cacophony of political posturing. It is to those that I speak today.
I can understand those seeking the comfort of understanding in the face of this senseless event. It’s what we all do when faced with adversity and tragedy – we ask why. In time, the shock will subside to a fierce ember and emotion will give way to resolve. What I can’t abide are those that rush to speak up, on both sides of the aisle, simply to make sure that this “crisis doesn’t go to waste”. Six months ago, I may well have been one lending my voice to the chorus of those looking to immediately assign blame. Caught up in the game of Republican versus Democrat, right versus left – I often viewed things first through the lens of politics. In some ways, my heart had begun to grow calloused.
Friday was a wake up call. When I heard the news out of Connecticut, something shifted inside me. Too many rushed to a microphone or their keyboards to demand that we either ban guns, or arm everyone – and too few looked in the mirror being held before us. To every thing there is given a time and a place. So, too, will there be a time for the inevitable discussion of gun control versus 2nd amendment rights. I have my opinions, and will engage in the debate when appropriate. That time was not Friday. Until the last of the victims bodies have been returned to the earth, we should concentrate on comforting the survivors and holding our own families close – not debating the political questions of what to do next or proselytizing from the right or the left on what this tragedy “means”.
As I sat there in my office, listening to news reports, I found I didn’t care about viewpoints or talking points. I couldn’t look at that morning through a political lens; I had to look at it though the lens of a father, a brother, a son, and a husband. I didn’t find importance in the words outlining government action or proscribing its exclusion from the debate. Instead, I found importance in 26 words I didn’t even know at the time – the names of the victims.
Charlotte age 6
Daniel age 7
Olivia age 6
Josephine age 7
Ana age 6
Dylan age 6
Madeleine age 6
Catherine age 6
Chase age 7
Jesse age 6
James age 6
Grace age 7
Emilie age 6
Jack age 6
Noah age 6
Caroline age 6
Jessica age 6
Avielle age 6
Benjamin age 6
Allison age 6
Mary age 56
Victoria age 27
Anne age 52
Lauren age 30
Dawn age 47
Rachel age 29
Our children are growing up too fast and the world they are inheriting is a dangerous and unforgiving place. It always has been. There have always been tragedies and trials in this country, in our hometowns – today is no different. School shootings, terrorist attacks, fiscal cliffs – these follow the spread of Nazism, the Great Depression, slavery and much more. Everyone lives in the time they are given, and everyone faces what appear to be insurmountable obstacles.
So what has changed? I think it’s us. I think we’ve lost an essential piece of what has always made America special. We’ve lost the ability to take a step back, take off the glasses of ideology and see the truth of the world that surrounds us. To set aside the robes of debate for a while and offer our support to our neighbors in their time of need. Our society has grown indifferent and cold, dismissive of the value of life and ambiguous to choices of good and evil. In trying to insulate ourselves from all hardship, we’ve somehow begun to lose the capacity to empathize with those around us.
Too many have also begun to see everything that happens only as a means to a political end. They play on our emotions to drive us in a headlong rush past grief and common sense, towards “solutions”. They look to define any issue by the political ground to be won or lost. Through that paradigm, we have lost the moral center that draws us together; the shared dream that ties us all to a common purpose. We have lost the innocence that’s born from faith in a higher purpose and our shared human experience. We’ve lost ourselves.
But that’s not to say that we’ve lost all hope. After the numbness of Friday, I found comfort over the weekend in the words of Robbie Parker, father of Emilie Parker, one of the Sandy Hook victims:
It’s a horrific tragedy, and we want everybody to know that our hearts and our prayers go out to them– this includes the family of the shooter. I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family, and our love and our support goes out to you as well.
At this time our thanks go out to so many people…My daughter Emilie would be one of the first ones to be standing and giving her love and support to all those victims, because that’s the type of person that she is. Not because of any parenting that my wife and I could have done, but because those were the gifts that were given to her by her Heavenly Father.
As I read those words, I had to ask myself – would I have been able to say them if I was in Mr. Parker’s place? Would I have found grace in understanding, or would have I demanded vengeance and raged against the senselessness of it all? Could I have found the strength to articulate those things that bind us together as a community instead of marching along the lines that define our differences? I honestly don’t know – and that gives me reason to pause.
For me, it’s still too soon to talk of “what next” or “we have to do something”. There is still too much to process. But I do know some things. I never want to face the test of faith facing the families of Newtown – no one does. But if that day is visited on me, I hope I can be the kind of man who can leaven my grief with a measure of grace. The kind of man who understands that we are a community of people; not of labels, or constituencies, or ideologies. The kind of man that knows this type of sorrow is a burden to anyone, but it’s a burden better shouldered when it’s shared without petition. The kind of man who understands the time and place for mourning and the time and place for debate. I want to be the man who can thank God for the blessings I’ve enjoyed, not curse him for the things I’ve lost. I don’t know if I’m that man today – but I will be.
© 2012, The Word Zombie. All rights reserved.