First Thoughts on the Shooting at Sandy Hook


I am, like most of us today, heart heavy and sad—the death of any child is a calamity, but to have so large a group so senselessly ripped from life makes one feel like getting drunk and howling at the moon.

The murder of multiple children at Sandy Hook Elementary certainly makes you realize none of your problems amount to a hill of beans.  And it makes you want to hug your loved ones every time they head out the door.

What else do I think?

We’re going to have to jump into the gun control/Second Amendment debate again.  For now, let’s not.  It’s just not time, yet.  Let’s not try to score political points or get defensive before the families even bury their dead.  Hold back a bit, MSNBC.

I understand the discomfort many have with media coverage of the event.  The witnesses were children, and questioning children requires greater care—and I’m disturbed when kids are asked to recite (and thus recall) what they saw or heard so soon after this event.  I don’t mind asking adults some of those questions.  I would prefer a more hands-off approach to kids, and while I think it’s OK to interview them, it’s only after they are with their parents and only with parental supervision and approval.

On the other hand, some of the comments I’ve seen are in the “blame the messenger” category.  Some Facebook commentators object to the intense media coverage of this event.  Disturbing as this story is, it is big news and deserves coverage.  Journalists are called upon to bear witness and help others bear witness in situations like this—so, no, it’s not only not wrong for journalists to cover this, it would be wrong of them not to.

Having said that, I am also a big disconcerted by the national need to weep together.  I don’t fault President Obama for issuing a statement or chocking up during it, but I feel a bit squeamish about the personalization of others’ misfortune that is a part of any modern sad event.  A president, these days, must be a crier-in-chief.  There is genuine emotion in situations like this, and some of that emotional leaking into the coverage is inevitable—but the emotional tone of some of what we’ve seen in the media puts me off, a bit.  I may choke up thinking of those dead children and their heart-burdened parents—but I am not one of them.  I am removed from the events in Connecticut.  I think, if called upon, I could talk about it without a catch in my voice.  And I just don’t think we should feel it always necessary to show that we’re all equally sad because we are not.  Our sadness is nothing compared to the suffering of those who are close to the event are experiencing.  It feels a little out of place to me, a little disrespectful, for those of us who don’t know anybody in Newton to carry on too much.

It’s a fine line, I’m sure.  You can’t hear news like this and not have a human “oh my God” reaction.  And it’s not wrong to say a quick prayer for the suffering families.  But some reserve is not a bad thing.

According to my quick and not necessarily accurate Google consult, in a world with 7 billion souls, approximately 300,000 of us exit the planet every day.  Thankfully, many of those exits are not so young or unexpected as the almost 30–20 kids and several adults–who had their young live snuffed out in a horrifying crime today.  But almost all of those 300,000 exits involve pain and loss for somebody, and many more than 30 seem unfair, too young or tragic.

Think of how people in Pakistan feel when an American drone kills children along with the Taliban rebels that were targeted.  Think of how the widowers and widows have the wind knocked out their bodies when an officer shows up and says “I am sorry to tell you that there has been a horrible auto accident.”

But don’t think about it too much.  First, don’t pass by without a thought for others’ tragedy.  Second, recall that life does have joy to counter the pain, beauty to counter what is ugly.

In an average day, it is also true that a few more than 300,000 souls enter the Earth.  We want to ensure that those souls aren’t taken too soon by random, reckless acts.  But we also have to meet life every day with courage, knowing that in the end, for each of u,s the race will come to a conclusion but in the meantime we are meant to enjoy the journey.

Too many families in Newton are hurting.  Christmas 2012 won’t be cheerful at too many hearths.  That is awful, awful, awful.  For now I want to pause and let it be awful.  I’ll sort out what it means, if anything, later.

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1 Comment

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One response to “First Thoughts on the Shooting at Sandy Hook

  1. Cate Sheller

    Thanks for this, Joe. I’m in the odd position of not having heard anything about this until last evening – I was at a funeral out of town for the mother of a dear friend (Susan) and then Paulette and I had Walt staying overnight at our house – so we were, first, kind of away from the news and then, second, avoiding it out of concern for Walt. So I feel perhaps even a little further removed, just because I’ve spent the last 24 hours on the periphery of sorrow so much closer to home.

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