Monday, December 17, 2012

For Sara: Thoughts about Newtown


You are blessedly unaware of the senseless and brutal events that happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week.  As a sweet, innocent, loving and hopeful seven-year-old girl, this is how it should be.  

All of the beautiful children who were killed last week are just the same age as you - six or seven, an amazing time when you are really starting to reveal who you are and who you might become.  Twenty beautiful boys and girls, just like you, taken from their families.  We will never know who they might have been.  We do know who their teachers were:  brave, selfless, loving women.  It is all such a horrifying tragedy.

I have not tried to make sense of what happened.  It's not possible.  I know that if I allowed myself to really play out the grief that those parents feel I would come undone.  You would find me hiding in my bed, weeping for their loss.  Here's a truth about parents, Sara: our children have forever changed the way we view the world.  It's impossible to see those sweet faces without also seeing yours, or to hear their names without hearing yours.  We know that today we are the lucky ones and that there are no guarantees about tomorrow.  It's terrifying.  But it's a small price to pay for having you in our lives.

The news broadcasters can - and do - spend hour upon hour offering up every detail they can find, trying to piece together what put that man in that place on that day.  They can search forever, but our hearts will never be satisfied with their answers.  Our souls demand more.  We want justice that will never come and peace for those families that will, in all likelihood, always elude them.  But I think what we want most of all is reassurance that this won't, can't, ever happen again.  That it won't, can't, happen to us.

In our efforts to come to grips with the death of 26 innocent women and children, a lot of people are engaging in debates about what we need to do to prevent something like this from happening again.  All over the internet you can find gun-rights advocates wrapping themselves up in the Second Amendment, and proclaiming that guns don't kill people, people kill people.  They drive their point home by displaying jarring pictures of weapons that I can only assume are meant to shock us into believing them.  Your mother has no problem with the Second Amendment, but she does have a problem with the insensitivity of plastering the internet with pictures of guns and rifles and all manner of firearms that, in the end, are designed to kill.  Now is not the time for this.  Can't we at least grant these families a reprieve from those images until they've had a chance to bury their loved ones?

Of course there are those on the other side, too, who are clamoring for gun control.  They are just as right about the need for greater oversight as are those who are advocating for responsible gun ownership, but they are all shouting so loudly at each other that they can't possibly hear what is being said.  Sadly, maybe that is the point.

There are still others out there who are turning this into an opportunity to advocate for healthcare reforms.  I suppose it goes without saying that the man who did this awful thing was not well.  He most certainly suffered from one or more mental illnesses that drove him to the point of madness.  I would like to believe that, had he received ideal treatment, this might have never happened.  But I'm not convinced of that.  Mental illness is a long, hard road.  It carries with it a stigma that a cancer patient never has to endure, and successful treatment often takes years of work and dedication on the part of not only the patient but also their medical team and support system.  Insurance companies and healthcare systems certainly have work to do in order to help make identification and effective treatment a viable option for people facing mental illness -- but that alone will never be the solution.  The government simply cannot regulate us into wellness.

I think these debates flare up so furiously because people are afraid.  Do you want to know what I'm afraid of, Sara?  I'm afraid that Americans have become too sure of themselves.  I'm afraid that the gun-rights advocates and the healthcare reformers are both so sure that they are right that they won't - or can't - listen to one another.  I'm afraid that we have come to take our liberty so much for granted that we've forgotten that we also must be responsible -- for ourselves and for one another.  (Just because you can, Sara, doesn't mean you should.)  I'm afraid that goodness and justice have become mutually exclusive ideals.  I'm afraid that compromise and compassion are viewed as weakness, when in fact they are the backbone of strength.

I'm afraid that we are too far-gone to save ourselves from future tragedies like this one.  And more than anything, I am afraid that someday you will suffer because of it.

Yesterday our President went to Connecticut to attend a vigil with the community in Newtown.  The grief was raw.  President Obama was wise to say that "mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."  He is right.  But here is the thing:  I truly believe that mere words will be the only way we can turn ourselves around.  No new laws, no radical reforms, will spare us from another Newtown.  It will take conversations, listening and learning and stretching to understand one another.  It will take faith in the fundamental goodness of people.  It will take trust that we rarely allow ourselves to feel.

It will take a miracle of sorts, but we are blessed because God does not run short on them.  I pray He grants us one soon.