We spend all our adult lives seeking to find the persons we once were, in those first shiny days. And it’s a common childhood notion to ponder what we’ll become, on the day when we grow up. If it ever comes. A full score of children will never have these privileges, down in mourning Newtown.
Dostoevsky wrote, “Fathers and elders, I ponder: What is Hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” Love is also the ability to share great pain, soul-wracking sadness. Love can be a kindred empathy with far-off folk we’ve never met, and sympathy for their bittersweet heart pain.
To coin an understatement, I wish what happened in Newtown could just unhappen. But a wish is the lowest form of desire; as a sentiment, it’s too cheap and easy, worthless without the hard work to make it manifest. Never Again was my heartfelt hope; but hope wasn’t sufficient.
Words probably won’t be enough, either. My vocabulary has been badly un-bowdlerized and befouled by a tiny school’s fantastically hard day, somewhere in the countryside of a state I passed through once. Never again, god-damnit. Color me frustrated, stupid-mad angry, and still impotent in the face of evil.
The best words to describe that awful Friday might be a keening chorus of unimaginable grief, wafting up to the vault of an evidently merciless Heaven. I want to curse in tongues, in unknown and lost languages, until I’m hoarse or the foul deed is undone, whichever comes first. My arrantly human opinion of God’s divine plan has never been lower, if you’ll pardon a small blasphemy.
Long ago, I gave up shooting firearms for private reasons. (I have access to all I want, if I wanted. Why would I?) It was a personal crossroads decision, binding on me alone. Cashing in my firepower investment was the logical next step. All of my guns are only loud memories now, and I keep waiting to miss them, but I don’t. They were inert things of oiled metal, very beautiful, shiny and well-made, extremely valuable; and all of them were not worth the tiniest fingernail of any 6-year-old on the planet. You’d agree?
My old friend of 20 years, who I call “Rajah,” used to be a child psychologist, unraveling the knotty problems of disturbed kids. A few years ago, his eldest son, barely 25, was murdered a thousand miles from home. When he woke five days ago on Friday, Sandy Hook made his old grief a walking ghost. “Yes, sure. The immensity of pain does relent a bit,” he said. “Over time. I don’t know if it ever vanishes. But Sky got to grow up, to be a good man.” He was surely that, and a classmate and buddy of my daughter’s from K-12, and my friend since he was a first-grader. R.I.P.
As it happens, we both met the killer once in passing, an acquaintance of Raj’s millennial son and his girlfriend, both of whom he murdered; when a neighbor ran over to intervene, she was stabbed multiple times, only surviving because her husband disarmed the killer. He fled, rammed a tree with a car, and expired, to the frustration of the police giving chase. No guns were involved. No comment.
Rajah and I knew two of the victims in the Tucson shooting, a sweet old couple we were proud to break bread with. Someone dear to me in Portland lost her legal mentor and longtime golfing partner in the same fusillade. Citizen involvement in politics is dangerous, and always has been. But schools zones should never be deadly.
In The Teahouse of the August Moon, Marlon Brando does a brilliant turn as Sakini, an Okinawan rogue who explains the matter with Zen simplicity: “Pain makes man think. Thinking makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable.” It sounds true; but truth is as hot and beautiful as fire. You can never be too wise, no doubt; but it’s difficult finding wisdom enough to explain the inexplicable whys of this horrifying act, even to yourself.
I’m working on it, without significant progress. You probably are, too. If you have young children who will hear your views on this event, oh good luck.
Here’s our collective predicament: Finding a solution will not be a quick fix, nor inexpensive. There are no easy answers here. We’ve had decades to prepare against a plague of shootings, but like hope, the steps taken so far were not enough. Now we need, to put it bluntly, miracles of some kind. Immediately.
One would think I had no faith, or did not believe in angels and a benign universe, to hear my wasteful litany of profanity. Sorry, Lord; but I wasn’t kidding, not a jot nor tittle, about the urgent need for miracles.
It’s useless to declare, however emphatically, that this must NEVER happen again, because we so wish it otherwise, because it hurts too damn much to humanly bear, and for 27 other individual reasons. Who even cares? Did someone forget to close the gates of Hell?
I’m light years away from one atom of compassion for this whats-its-name. Do not, damn your many eyes, recite it ad nauseum, broadcast media. I don’t care to hear any twisted motives or angstful literary musings from his murdered but resurrected hard drive. Skip that entirely, and tell us much more about the incredibly short, magical lives of the taken, who they were. We should remember their names.
This could have been an anonymous shooting. All of them could have, if the shooter, dead or alive, was whisked away by goons and vanished forever. In a better (if not perfect) world, all record of his existence would go down the memory hole.
One thing is true beyond question. These blameless victims of mindless, pointless, needless violence are not in pain, wherever they are. If they are not innocents and heroes, welcome in Paradise without having to ask, who among us can be?
By the way, note one word missing in the previous paragraph, on purpose: “useless.” This obscenity has already happened, and we must use it as a catalyst for immediate, considered, and effective action. Political change may be an oxymoron, but you’re welcome to try. After all, some laws do make sense.
If we don’t use the enormity of the Sandy Hook massacre to find the root of the problem, there goes yet another cubic centimeter of chance that we might have grasped to make all children safe in schools, plus the pathfinder/heroes who show the young how to be kind and worthy human beings, the teachers who try to protect them.
Each previous outrage was a mere prelude by comparison. My earlier purple rage has settled somewhat, replaced by an uncomfortable insight: anger has no upper limits, but sadness does, and it fades. Perhaps sadness is the silent eye of a storm of pain.
The things you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer indicate your current level of inner peace. And that’s mere physical pain; psychic pain goes off the scale. So, Enlightenment must be a few thousand lifetimes off for me, and I’m frankly ashamed to ask for Salvation. I’m just humbly grateful that my daughter is alive, a warrior, one little girl who found and married her true love last summer. So lucky; but why me?
However you worship or don’t worship in this season, seek to see the precious spark in every child. Cherish and guard it, and feel free to join me in praying for a miraculous end to monsters that masquerade as men. Solutions will be found, because they must be. Until then, I’ll settle for the first glimmer of understanding, if it helps to close those dark gates forever.
Ironically, I who profess no religion find the whole of my life to be a religious pilgrimage.– Loren Eiseley