Every time I see a photo of or a news story about or reaction to – and they are legion, extensive, and equal levels of gutwrenching and heartbreaking – the massacre in Connecticut, I feel emptied. It’s so raw, so hard to comprehend “why?” when maybe there are no answers for that; not any which are at all digestible, at least, not in the past tense. It only means that we have to define that and move forward; to give meaning to the horror; to plant a garden over the graves, as it were. I mean, we have to make something of it, (don’t we though?) because it’s a big fat shit sandwich, and if you’ll excuse me for the vile metaphor, because I think nothing short of that kind of analogy applies right now, we’ve been munching on it for quite some time now as a nation. Phrases such as “culture of violence” ring in my ears. All of my therapeutic training and study of statistics and literature reviews in psychology courses support this, on many levels. We are overall too unresponsive, too bureaucratically impotent, in a sense; we do don’t do enough collectively to support healthy emotional outlets; we do not role model them as a society; we may pay lip service to these things, and many wonderful individuals on the ground are doing their part, but we do not put our money where our mouth is with tax dollars. Instead, we take it away, over and over and over again. We do not lead by loud enough and large enough example by living lives of peace by showing our children war through a cloudy lens. I don’t mean this does not happen, and I think there is a profound and beautiful, heartwarming move to counter all of this. After all, I worked with dozens upon dozens of positive, brilliant, wonderful individuals when I worked in wilderness therapy, who I believe were waging peace in a sense. I felt as though we were fighting the good fight, and there are rays of hope everywhere if we choose to focus our eyes on it.
But, I feel as though I don’t want to stop reading about it, talking about it, extracting what good can come of this, because I fear that our nation will go silent. That we’ll forget in time, at this level, as we have so many times, over and over and over. That our collective wounds will slowly begin to mend, though that damned scar tissue remains. Because, as some news outlets are inclined to remind us, “elementary school shootings are incredibly rare.” That may be so. But gun violence isn’t. Unintended, unnecessary gun death happens all the time (32 per day on US soil, say the statistics. 32 people. Individuals, men, women, children. Die. Every damn day, because of guns. And that’s just here on this part of the continent. Nevermind the countless others inflicted on foreign lands in the name of “cheap oil,” and other things that generally fall under militarism and imperialism), and even one seems like too damn many.
I am sickened and saddened, and maybe a tad frightened, by some of the off-their-collective-front-porch-rockers responses of the fringe few (maybe): Kindergarten teachers with M-4s in their classrooms? ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? No, no, just no, and absolutely no, not ever! If that’s what you believe in, start your own NRA-loving school, but I will NOT be sending my one-day children to any such schools, and I sure as shit won’t be working in them. More guns, more violence. The evidence supports this, so it would seem.
But the national response to it, of outrage, of a push for change… let us please not keep silent. Please don’t let the collective shout grow to an inaudible whisper and then fade into nothingness. I keep searching somewhere for the hope, the glimmer, the meaning, that this will lead to a sea change; that it is some sort of “last straw.” That enough is too much. It well may be. Or just a single stone upon which to begin building a more solid foundation.
I react with a shake of my head, and maybe a little annoyance, to seeing people write “there are no words” because it just seems as stupid of a cliche as “I can’t possibly imagine.” Because yes, unfortunately we actually can, in the most horrified depths of our collective imaginations, but we want to keep it at a distance where it is understandable and not exactly real; like a movie, and not real life; still unfathomably intangible. That’s what’s so sickening, because we’ve been there before as a nation and this shit keeps happening. IT KEEPS HAPPENING! And we do, what? Nothing? Nothing adequate?
But, I understand the sentiment of feeling lost for words. There’s no right way to explain it away, no verbal or written panacea. Because nothing anyone says or writes will undo what was done. I realize how much I also want to deny it, write it off as a horrible nightmare, that visited us all, but it was a hoax. A horrible fake. And though part of me just wants to shake my head and mumble, because how in the F? I also know in my heart that there are in fact too many words, and none of them will unmake the past, but we have to speak them so that we may alter our current trajectory. We have to talk about the realities, to process them as a nation, as individuals, as humans; we have to start speaking up and speaking out, louder and in greater numbers. Because “it’s too soon” and “let them mourn” are atrocious, damning, unkind words, spoken under the guise of compassion, all too often by people who act against the interests of preventing future tragedies from happening. Words uttered many times by gun advocates, as if talking about ways in which innocent people’s deaths could have been prevented is somehow disrespectful to their families and memory.
Again, again, again! It’s all the same. It’s completely different. Nothing is better. Nothing is worse. It’s putrid, rotting, awful, deplorable, sad, sorrowful, horrid…. I could fill a room, a vast castle with vitriol and adjectives.
And sadly, sorrowfully, with the following, I agree. It seems like the harshest, but most basic truth: I side with those who state that it’s not too soon to talk about this. It’s not timely. It’s far too goddamned late. Because it was “too soon” after Columbine; Blacksburg; Aurora… the list goes on. Every day. Every goddamned day people die, needlessly, from stupid death machines. And not just here. We (and by we I mean this country and the government, which we as citizens passively or actively engage) allow destruction and death of innocents to happen the world over. Under the guise of so-called “Freedom.” If this is what freedom looks like, something has gone terribly awry. Orwell’s words of “war is peace” echo in my head. Doublespeak, doublethink. Let’s double back.
Maybe now that it’s happening to our supposedly most precious, and certainly most innocent, blameless, of lives, we will stand up and take collective action. And we best not stay silent. Because even if it’s too late to bring back those sweet, defenseless children, that doesn’t mean we get to say “oh well, not again” and stand helplessly waving our arms and wailing, impotently flapping our chicken wings, unable to take flight.
The cynical side of me want to say “OH NOW WE ALL CARE?” as if it’s different to send drones overseas to kill Other People’s Children; as if it’s different to send our young men and women (because really, an 18 year old is still kinda a child too.) off to war, to kill, or be killed, or to come back with profoundly life-altering bodily harm, nevermind the emotional scars, PTSD, which our VA and social services and mental health system are hardly equipped with the resources to adequately address. All of these people have died countless needless deaths. But it all seems to stem from the same route cause, on some level. It’s all the same. It’s all needless suffering.
But. In searching for that glimmer of hope, I can only tell myself that it can be perceived as different, only in that now, here it is. In our faces. On our doorstep (or a state away from where I grew up) in a picturesque little New England town not unlike my own hometown. Edward Small, who grew up in Newtown, wrote in response to the tragedy:
When talking to friends and family about this, the one phrase that keeps coming up is “I can’t believe.” It’s a cliché, but also true in a very literal sense. I spent all day reading the headlines and the body counts, but part of me is still waiting for the grand reveal that none of this really happened because how could any of it have really happened? How could the elementary school where I wrote my first story and got in trouble for calling Ross Perot a butthead also be the site of the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting? I can’t reconcile the memories I have of Sandy Hook School with the events of today. They simply aren’t the same place.
And now here we are. We sit with this: the horrific unintended consequence of our culture of fear, violence, and disregard for human life.
I intend to write letters to my senators, in support of stricter gun regulation too. Thankfully, Diane Feinstein of California is already speaking out in favor of this. I will do my small part to urge her not to back down, to stand behind this kind of policy maker. And how about divestment from corporate interests such as the NRA, and exclusion of donations and corporate lobbying groups such as ALEC, without which the NRA would not have nearly the kind of political clout it carries, from the democratic process..
But the reality is no words will unbreak the hearts of the families who lost their little ones. Nothing will stop the reality of 28; 1,000, 1 million, 3 million… countless people who have already died needlessly from weapons with no other purpose than to maim, to destroy, to obliterate.