I'm a father of four and a grandfather of six, the oldest of whom is six.
To me the massacre that took place in Newtown yesterday was the 'unthinkable.'
That this happened in a 'safe' school in a 'nice' suburb makes the event even more 'unthinkable' to many of us, I suspect. But perhaps the cold hard truth is simply that mental illness knows no physical boundaries.
But I'll not try to make any sense of this senseless tragedy today.
Instead it's time for personal reflection. I'll take the time for mine, and you'll have the time for yours.
Newtown, U.S.A. may help with what we can and should do right now. It helped put things together for me.
"President Obama spoke for the nation Friday when he said simply, "Our hearts
are broken." Anytime innocent people in the act of daily life die at the hand of
a deranged gunman is cause for profound grief. Co-workers, college students,
couples on dates at the local movie theater—their instant separation from joyful
life leaves us instantly aghast.
There is, however, no way to get past the special awfulness of these 27 dead
in suburban Newtown, Connecticut, of whom 20 were young children sitting in
classrooms. When President Obama choked up trying to talk about this Friday
afternoon, he merely showed what parents felt in every town and living room in
the U.S. This is the one unthinkable event.
A very long time ago, the ancients would have attributed such tragedy to fate
or to the gods. The dead would be honored, grief in time would recede and the
living would push onward, as if there were any other choice.
No longer. For better or worse, we inhabit a more modern world that feels
compelled to submit all such events to analysis. The details of the killer and
his life history are still spilling out and we will learn in the days ahead more
than we probably want to know. From analyzing all this, it is assumed, a
protective salve of public policy will emerge. So we will debate after Newtown,
and perhaps something worthwhile will come from the effort.
As happened after the shootings at Columbine High School, where two students
shot 12 other students, there will be calls for the control of guns,
notwithstanding the existence of 200 million guns amid a U.S. population of 311
million. Last year in Norway, a nation with a tight gun-control and licensing
regime, Anders Breivik methodically gunned down 69 people, mostly teenagers, on
the island of Utoya.
Questions about both gun control and violent mental illness were raised this
year when James Holmes allegedly shot 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie
theater. After college-student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech
University, there was a great effort to understand what is possible, and not
possible, in the treatment of shattered minds that pitch people into violence
and murder. Specifically, what protections from people in the grip of
uncontrolled mental illness or evil derangement is the broader society entitled
There is time enough for that public debate and all the usual intellectual
tensions put in motion by such discussion. But not at this moment. Newtown's
massacre is a crushing event. The emotions pouring now from every person in the
United States toward those families are the right ones. It is better to let them
run for awhile."