It feels like a travesty to write anything and a sacrilege not to. I have three healthy children, asleep (or mostly asleep) beneath mounds of covers and stuffed animals. In Newtown, Conn., there are 26 empty beds, with 20 sets of stuffed animals whose children will never cuddle them again. I know people who have lost children to disease, accident, and even violence. The same thought penetrates every time – those of us whose children live and laugh, or those of us who have never had children of our own, have no place from which to speak. Except, possibly from the place of our darkest fears.
I didn’t run the mile and a half from my desk to my children’s school yesterday morning. I wanted to. But, I watched the reports throughout the day, fragments of confusion scrolling past in 140 characters or less, rumor mixed with official news, and I contented myself with hugging my three a little harder when I saw them.
This world of ours has become weirdly connected, and with that connection, has turned into the family reunion where everyone imbibes a little too much. I’ve seen yesterday’s tragic shooting blamed on: lack of gun control, lack of mental health services, violent video games, exploitive media, lack of prayer in schools, lack of armed school security guards, and possibly everything in between.
Every author of every post means well and is, I’m sure, absolutely convinced that if we fixed this one thing, this one cause, the violence would stop. There would be no more.
The blame hurts almost as much as the news of the tragedy itself. Life is too complicated, too fragile, to narrow these events down to a single cause, a single fix. We don’t even know all of the facts surrounding the events of yesterday’s shooting. We may never know. The media didn’t even report the correct identity of the shooter for hours.
The ugly, horrific, unendurable truth, is that the line between control and evil is much finer than we want to believe. Responsible people own guns and use them responsibly. People walk around every day with significant mental illnesses that remain under good regulation. Seemingly “sane” people suddenly behave with complete unpredictability. Kids, teens, and adults role-play violence daily. Small children pick up sticks and yell “Bang! Bang!” Teenagers play violent video games and sing in church choirs. Kids watch movies and television shows with violent scenes, yet refrain from acting out that violence. Adults, decent, kind, loving adults play the same games, watch the same movies, and even express anger with words of violence. Yet, most never act upon these shadow impulses.
We blame because we fear. The fear we refuse to express is that it could be our child or loved one in the news – as the victim or as the shooter. We don’t know why many of these things happen. We don’t know why one ostracized teen goes on to found a major technology company and another becomes a mass murderer. We want a cause. We want something we can fix, something we can control.
I’m not saying that our society is beyond redemption. I’m not saying that nothing can or should be changed. I happen to be an excellent shot, a daughter and granddaughter of hunters, who believes in the necessity of guns for protection against predators or for seeking food, but who also believes that we need better regulation of gun purchases, and that guns designed to take human life belong only in the hands of law enforcement and military. I have friends and family who are mental health professionals and friends and family with mental illnesses. I do believe that mental health care in our country is insufficient. I am married to a gamer; my children watch action movies. I abhor the violence in some of Mike’s games, but I don’t believe that either he or my children are unable to distinguish between fantasy and real life. I believe in a higher power, but I don’t believe that prayer has any business being imposed upon others. I also don’t believe in a deity who would refuse to protect children over a matter of legislation – that’s insane. I attended a high school where violence was a matter of course. A police presence on campus did nothing to deter the knife and fist fights. I want my children safe, but not at the expense of learning in an armed camp.
In the end, there is no easy fix, no one policy, person, or thing to blame. I’m not even sure there is any good way to pray for the lives that have been lost and ripped apart. Those wounds won’t heal, not really. All that we can do, in the end, is to ache for those who have lost, and love more deeply those who remain.
Yesterday, as I pushed Sierra on the rope swing at school, the swing twisted, spinning her body within inches of the tree. I flinched, and she saw it. “Were you afraid I would hit the tree, Mommy?” she grinned.
“Well, I have to die someday, you know.” She laughed and swung harder, matter-of-fact and joyful.
“True…but I’d prefer it not to be until you are bigger.”
“You mean older?”
I thought of all of the children who will never outgrow their next pair of shoes, who will never get older. “Yes. Much older.”
When we tuck Sierra in at night, we each say the same phrase. “I love you more than infinity.”
Blame doesn’t work. Politics don’t work. All that we can do is to love our children and each other – more than infinity.