What you see in the Connecticut school shooting depends on which knothole you peer through. The facts remain the same: twenty children killed, and six adults, in what should be the safest of all places, an elementary school.
Is it gun violence that you see through your knothole? Or inadequate mental health laws? Or matricide gone to ghastly proportions? Or the lack of metal detectors? Or the dreadful extension of domestic violence?
And more personal questions come. What would possess someone to do this? And why did the murdered mother own multiple guns? What went on in that house that the neighbors didn’t know about? Were there warning signs?
With our brains, we try to explain it to ourselves, while we frantically try to identify protections against it happening again. Meanwhile, our hearts fail us, as we can’t face what we can’t bear – the twenty children who won’t grow up, whose families will never be the same, whose school and town and state will always be scarred . Their friends, no longer carefree, grew up that day into the harsh reality that you can be loved, but not safe. We can reassure them all we want, but they know better.
The six adults who died were there to help children grow in other directions than this. They wouldn’t have guessed that their positive intention would put them in the path of fatal bullets. The ripples from their loss rush in all directions – back to their former students, deep to their loved ones, further out to the others who do what they do every day, and to the rest of us. These aren’t the sorts of people we can do without.
Our hearts search through the news stories, needing to learn who were the heroes, how they saved other children, grasping for a shred of positivity in the tragedy, even in the form of reassurance that it could have been worse. We are haunted by the photos of a line of children with terror on their faces being led away, and by their simple explanations to reporters of what they saw and heard – “pops,” “ like someone kicking a wall.” They couldn’t imagine bullets in their school.
It would be a gift if all our explorations could lead us to one answer – just change this, just stop doing that – but that isn’t going to happen. Multiple causes, some we will never know, came together to create this. There will be no simple answers.
We will learn more facts in the next days, and if we do what people usually do, we will use them to solidify our own positions. We will declare that we need new laws – more gun control or mental health risk assessments with teeth, or other measures – and then we will return our attention to our own daily lives. As soon as we can, we will relax into the belief that there is a solution that others will enact. Next year, on the anniversary of this shooting, we will think again of the families and the school, and briefly wonder if anything ever came of it. We’ll take the easy way back to our comfortable lives.
Instead, if we are smart, we’ll do what we are always telling our children to do – we will listen and learn. We will step back from our knotholes. We will honor these children and their teachers the best if we let it be complicated, if we are willing to look deeply at our culture – at our endless police shows on TV, at generations being raised on shoot-em-up video games, at psychological and behavioral warning signs unheeded, at the hatred and blame we hear every night on the news, at the whole messy and intricate web.
And, if we are smart, for our own good, we won’t stop there. We will consider the dozens of possible ways to make ours a more humane and peaceful world – programs on conflict resolution, anti-bullying, reconciliation, emotional intelligence, relationship skill-building, tolerance, inclusion, firm limits, clear consequences, brain research, and on and on. This does not require convincing politicians to pass laws. This requires convincing each of us to stay engaged, listen and learn.
What if each of us found a project that addresses just one small piece of the problem, and decided to support it with money or time or both? What if we took in what we could learn from a new vantage point? By this time next year we would understand better how that little part fits into the whole web of causation.
We’d be able to say that even though the politicians might not have stepped up in the way we initially demanded, we did. It’s the difference between walking away shaking our heads, and offering our hands. It’s the little something we can do.