Elegy ~ Sandy Hook Elementary School ~ December 14, 2012
In memory of those who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, on Friday, December 14, 2012.
It’s humbling to try to write anything as a response to an event like the Connecticut school shooting. It’s a reminder of just how inadequate words can be.
After something horrific happens, whatever we feel is our truth. All feelings are a certain kind of very fleeting truth. Since Friday, I have felt deeply sad, a sort of a grief though I didn’t know any of the dead. I’ve also felt fear, anger, and again, sadness.
Fear is an emotion designed to helps us avoid future pain. It leads us to close down, to escape, to batten for another blow. Some people will feel fear and want to stay home, stay in, stay away. Others will feel fear and want to buy a weapon. Still others will want to ban future weapons sales, or even confiscate the weapons that are already owned. Fear makes us want to control.
Anger is an emotion that compels us to act, to protect and to defend ourselves. Some people will feel angry and lash out at the shooter, the community, the NRA, the lack of mental health care in this country, the government, the President. Those feeling angry will want to do something with their anger. Angry people arm themselves, protest and threaten, or blame. Angry people sign internet petitions and write their Congressperson or Senator.
Grief means that something sacred and dear has been lost. We will grieve and our grief will be overwhelming. We will feel helpless, hopeless. We will want to do something to prevent ourselves and others from future grief. We will want to give up. Those who are grieving will not be able to think clearly or concentrate until their grief has dulled. For their grief will never pass, but only dull. The grieving need our support and our love. They don’t need our fear or our anger.
After something horrific happens, whatever we do is our choice. In our choices we reveal, or obscure, our humanity.
I agree with Liza Long, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” who wrote that more than anything else, we need a conversation. A conversation with those who become so angry or so scared that the only thing that makes sense to them is destroying life, their own or others’. A conversation with those who are caring for the scared and angry. We need a conversation with those who own guns out of fear and those who train their children to use them out of fear.
After all this carnage, it might help to talk to one another using kind words. It might help to acknowledge that some people only feel safe if they own a gun. Then we must decide together how to make sure that everyone actually is safe.
It might help to look at the data, to learn about the places in the world that are most safe and those that are the least safe. To see how many weapons exist in each of those places and how the laws in the safe places deal with weapons and how the humans in those safe places deal with each other.
Fear, anger, and grief don’t lend themselves to conversation. But I have to believe that we can learn to acknowledge our emotions and then make humane choices. We can choose to talk, and choose not to fight, because we are human beings.
We can look at the facts and the deaths. We can accept each other’s deep emotions and say: I understand. Like you, I also feel pain and anger, grief and fear. Like you, I have felt lost and I have felt loss.
Like you, I want this to change. I hope for this to change.
Hope means that we trust in a promise, or at least, that we would like to trust. We feel hope when a way opens that seemed closed and when either the rock or the hard place gives way. We feel hope when the angry and fearful voices, the voices that are inside all of us, are heard, acknowledged, and so can finally be quiet.
We feel hope when our fears are no longer ignored.
I’m reminded of the words of non-fiction authors Pam Cope and Aimee Molloy in their story of a journey after grief. They wrote of little children, the voices of our children, the voices of all of us:
Now that you’ve seen my suffering, now that you know about me, what will you do?
The question for me, Claire, is where do we go with these feelings? When something is so awful, how do we move beyond being paralyzed to doing something? It seems like many turn to church for this, but for those who are not religious, where does this community building happen?
Shannon, this is such an important question!
Everyone’s answer is probably a little different. I think “real” conversations with our neighbors, family members, colleagues, are a good starting place. Getting involved in local governance, writing letters to our representatives, posting on FB even. Anything that brings us together and doesn’t divide us further.
I think our culture teaches us to shy away from uncomfortable conversations and questions. How could we not? We’re inundated with the “happy ending” after a 30min sitcom model of life. There is a lot of “leave well enough alone.”
My take is that children and adults alike learn that strong negative feelings should be buried. And then those who are struggling end up feeling they are invisible and that their cries or signals for help will be ignored as well. Which leads to violence. I read in The Monster of Florence that violence is scream without an echo.
But personal connections can save us. And dealing with our emotions first, in a safe place of acceptance with caring others, can help us to process them.
Then action which can be based not on those strong violent emotions that come with being human…but on the wisdom that comes after feeling, and accepting, those emotions and weighing them against other information that’s out there.