Saturday, December 15, 2012

Processing the Unthinkable

This morning, an armed madman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and opened fire. In what is being called the second deadliest school shooting in our nation’s history, Adam Lanza massacred 26 innocent people  in cold blood – 20 of whom were children.

The news of the shooting is hard enough to read about. But as is so often the case, the images coming from Newton today are what have stricken me the most. Pictures of teachers maintaining order among the chaos as they lead children to safety. Pictures of panic-stricken parents trying to find their children outside the school. Pictures of panic-stricken children being comforted by classmates who look too numb to cry. I want to reach into those pictures and comfort the children. I see their faces and my maternal reflex is to hold those children tight to my chest until their own mothers arrive. Which leads the only good pictures to come out today – those of relieved parents embracing their children as they reunite, swallowing them up in hugs so tight you can almost feel the relief radiating out from the picture.

As new details emerged throughout the day, my mind was sent reeling again and again. It wasn't until I got off work and settled into a seat on the bus that I learned the full horror of what had happened. Lanza started his rampage by killing his own mother in their shared home. He then went to the school where she had taught Kindergarten and went straight to her classroom to kill her students - Kindergarteners. Five- and six-year-old babies. Total innocents, who had not walked this earth long enough to have done Lanza any harm.

As I sat on the blessedly dark and uncrowded bus, it wasn't long before the tears were flowing freely down my face. I tried not to weep audibly, but never really looked around to see whether anyone noticed. I didn't really care. I could feel my heart tearing apart as I tried to comprehend how such a thing could have happened, how so many innocent children could have been slaughtered in cold blood, and how their parents could possible move on from this day with any kind of hope in their hearts. I wept with grief for so many lives lost. I wept with sorrow for so many families shattered. I wept with relief that my own children had not been anywhere near that school today and were in fact already safe at home, probably arguing about what show to watch on TV.

Then my thoughts turned to what the scene inside that school building must have been like. What went through the young victims’ minds when they faced the gunman? Did they have time to experience terror or pain? (I pray not.) Who had the grim task of identifying the bodies? Who had the unbearable task of calling the parents of 20 children and confirming their absolute worst fears?
Then my thoughts turned to the gunman. And my feelings turned back to my prevailing feeling of the day: rage. The most tragic thing about Lanza's life is that he got to end it on his own terms. For justice to have been served, he would have been apprehended alive – and then locked in a room with the parents of the children he murdered until they were done tearing him apart with their bare hands. I realize my version of justice doesn’t exactly mesh with my Christian beliefs in this case (or the Constitution, for that matter). But as long as I have this storm raging inside my head, my imagined outcome brings me a small measure for relief.
Predictably, the public debate has turned to gun control laws. After all, there was a mall shooting less than a week ago. And the Aurora movie theater shooting is still fresh in everyone's minds. Some people think we should ban all guns outright. Others think we should arm everybody. I'm not ready to take part in any type of public debate - the emotions are too raw. Maybe before we ammend the Constitution or hand out guns to everyone we need to make mental health screenings part of every routine physical exam - beginning in childhood. Maybe if we get the stigma out of mental illness people would stop trying to just write people off as crazy and start demanding better screenings and treatments. Maybe if we had better treatments for serious mental illness we wouldn't need to rate the severity of mass shootings because they wouldn't happen any more. Just a thought.

But before I can save the world with my litany of maybes, I’m just gonna hunker down in prayer while I process this tragedy. Prayer for the souls of the victims. Prayer for the families left behind. Prayer for the traumatized children and faculty who will have to walk back into that school again when it reopens. Prayer for our species as a whole. So many lives are shattered right now - and not just from today's events. If ever there was a need for us to earnestly seek out light and love, now is the time.

Click here only if you have Kleenex handy...

When I got home tonight I hugged my girls a little tighter and a little longer than usual. I will continue to do so as often as they'll let me - praying that they stay safe and healthy for the next 100 years.


1 comment:

  1. Oh how I wish this well written blog was not necessary! My heat aches and I fight the urge to become a fearful recluse....holed up in my home, unwilling to venture out into this messed up world we live in.....won't give in to the depression....tears flow, but prayer is sad..


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