When I stepped into the shower last Friday, the number was three: Two adults, one child. When I came out, squeaky clean and supposedly ready for anything, it was 26, at the time – 18 children. It would climb to 20 children after an hour or so. I screamed, shrieked-sobbed at the computer screen, and at some unknown assailant, “Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!”
It was involuntary, and I was conscious of being half-afraid that I would punch the innocent computer screen. I wish I could say I went straight to sobbing. Or straight to meditation. Or directly to Love. Or even jumped past it all to numbness. But I didn’t. I responded with impotent adrenalin in the safety of my home.
After my initial cry, which would be followed up with half a dozen more in the next three hours before picking up my son from the bus, I wrote some emails canceling meetings and social engagements for the day. I’m not a social mourning person; I prefer solace. I’m not good at being a sharer, and I will often say things that are unclear or have faulty logic as I’m working out my emotions. I also have enough cynicism to be suspicious of other people’s displays – and I say that knowing that others may well view my own methods of coping as odd and off-putting.
I have thought about the initial fury I felt when the extent of the tragedy became clear, and it disturbed me. I don’t have any eloquence to share as so many have already done. I have anger and disgust and horror. And now, a week later, after deciding not to share any information with my children – unless they come to me asking questions – I’m already back to getting angry with them about the same silly issues of parenting. And I’m already back to my cynical response to people expressing “teachers are heroes” because I know that once more time passes, it will be right back to the usual “lower my taxes” and “teachers are lazy.” No matter how much we type or say or share “Never Forget,” I think we all know that sooner rather than later Life will go on and bring back the usual troubles and self-involvement we’re used to. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. Isn’t it?
People have already begun bringing up defensive measures and blame regarding Race, Mental Health, Gender, Gun Ownership as they try to find explanations and logic in a situation that does not yet have any to offer. Before the splintering into who gets more attention continues – because it’s more than where it happened or to what class or race of child (although surely that is part of it) – I’d like to posit that it’s also the sheer number, all at once. Going back to my initial reaction, when the number was two adults and one child, I shook my head and frowned. I probably thought, “Just horrible.” Similar to how I reacted upon hearing about so many shootings and gassings and stabbings and freak accidents around my area in recent memory.
But my reaction changed when the number went up. When it became clear that an entire class (save one) had been slaughtered, the safety of “there must be a reason” and “there’s hope of survival” dissipated leaving only desperate, futile anger. And anger can be a powerful tool, not just a destructive force.
This autumn has been filled with difficult and painful events in which we lost our littlest neighbors. I believe we MUST use the emotional kickstart that the international attention to Newtown has given us to act and to keep acting. Gun violence, any violence, is not limited to any one neighborhood or segment of society or the world. It’s everyone’s problem. As Trymaine Lee points out in this recent MSNBC article, violence continues, and has been a warped mainstay, in too many children’s lives. Where a child lives does not make her any less innocent or worthy of attention. I know you know that.
Let’s leap over the resentment and selectivity of the media machinery’s attention – and get right to work to make sure that ALL the gun violence that affects our children and all of us dissipates before our mourning does.