Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages-from “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden
What can be added at this point to all the words published on the Internet or repeated on television about the country’s most recent mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 27 dead?
We can speculate about the shooter’s motive, which we probably will never really know, or we can write and talk to try to understand the complexity of why we, as a nation, are mourning once again the inconceivable loss of so many innocent lives in our country.
We can say we need stronger gun control laws when it comes to semiautomatic and assault weapons, we need better mental health programs and ways to spot troubled people and we need to quit the fixation over the spectacle of such events, most notably the media’s warped, pornographic-like fascination with violence. I believe these things with conviction.
But we might also ask ourselves, Why do we not expend the same mournful, collective energy when children get ruthlessly killed by our own government in other countries? If our children are so much more important than, say, children in Pakistan, then why don’t we, why can’t we, protect them? Is our selective mourning part of the problem? Is it a culpable indicator of why twenty children were gunned down Friday?
Is it only a matter of time before media reports of the killing of innocent America children at their schools will become as humdrum as the news of the latest U.S. drone attack in another country? The National Rifle Association won’t even need to offer its usual rebuttals for its immoral arming of mentally-ill people among us.
All this has been said, and will be said again, about this shooting and, tragically, probably about the many shootings that will follow. The story will be written in better sentences than I can write and analyzed in deeper, more extended approaches than I can muster this beautiful Sunday morning in Oklahoma.
It IS a beautiful December morning here, with plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures for this time of year and just a soft breeze. Against the brilliant, stark Oklahoma landscape, as I look out the windows at the blackjack trees in my yard, the contrast between it and the violence at that elementary school seems peculiarly unbearable. What right do I, or any of us, have to feel the comfort of the December sunshine in the midst of such horror?
Fragments of the story linger: One child shot 11 times. A photograph of a beautiful, young teacher who died trying to save her students. Twenty students, ages 6 or 7, dead. An elementary school principal gunned down lunging at an evil almost impossible to conceive even in today’s violent world.
For a moment, the December sunshine offers no relief. We are a violent country, a country of perpetual war. We are a mentally-ill country that allows bizarre logic to dictate the steady spread of mass-destruction weaponry among our people. We are a country with a history of hate and cruelty, from slavery to how we now treat the poorest among us. The Sandy Hook shooting is who we are, not a product of what we’ve become.
Yet the December sunshine reconciles, too. We are a country in which people have repeatedly sacrificed their lives for worthy, humane causes. We are a country filled with loving, peaceful people, ready to help neighbors. We are a county filled with unlikely heroes and great leaders, exchanging messages of justice throughout generations. We are a country of constant change, which needs to happen again right now or it might never happen. Our dead children demand it.