Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When Tragedy Strikes, People Have to React

Three days ago 27 people were gunned down in an elementary school for no reason at all. Their lives, mostly six-year-olds, were ripped from them like dirty sheets from a bed. 1,600 plus years, based on life expectancy, were robbed from the world because a monster chose to visit his pain on others before ending his life by his own hand.

And everyone with a mouth is out, as front and center as they can, to give their Reason Why. The indefatigable explanations march forward like lemmings to the sea. I try not to criticize, because when humans are being humans it's hard to get in the way to stop it. We need to talk about it. We need to make sense of it. It's what we do as a species, as a people. We have to understand it, so we can harness it, manipulate it, subdue it, control it. Our great fear is being outside of control. Our perfect storm of aptitude and pride ensures we will fight to the last to subdue what we fear, what threatens us.

If you are a liberal then you have a list of bogeymen to blame it on. If you are a conservative then you have a list of bogeymen to blame it on. Both lists are equally pathetic. Both fail to account for all the factors involved, both lists are constructed not solely from cold hard facts, but from biases and assumptions and articles of faith that long ago passed from propositions and into verses of a worldview to be memorized and worshiped. Some axioms are better than others, and I'll give you a few of the better ones that are apropos: We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are; the mind justifies what the heart believes. The liberal laments that if only there was stricter gun control this wouldn't have happened--stick your finger in the dike and see where the pressure asserts itself next. The conservative asserts that God has been driven from the schools, so it is small wonder why He wouldn't show up to a school to prevent such catastrophe--you think your God is fighting the same culture war as you for His honor and namesake? That would make God as small and petty and silly as a human like yourself--not much of a God, if you ask me.

My god, haven't you ever theorized on paper, only to find that your explanation in a vacuum runs into problems on the ground? Haven't you found that implementing your solution begets problems unforeseen, and that sometimes answers create questions and problems that you didn't see coming?

The only thing I am left with is deep and abiding pain, if I allow myself to really think about what happened--and I mostly don't. The only proper response to what happened on Friday is to tear your garments and weep on the floor without rising for days and days and days. Any less of a response is proof of a calloused soul, which, I'm afraid, we are all guilty of. Nothing can salve the pain, no explanation or cracked up human gambit can begin to restore the horror that is a familiar and irrevocable reality that again asserted itself in our world when a masked gunmen came looking for kindergartners.

After the tragedy I am left with two resounding thoughts.

The first: I imagine going into the classroom moments before the gunman entered with hell in a barrel. I imagine stopping time, and looking at the children. I would be surrounded by teeming life and hope and expectations. I would look into their faces and only see beautiful, untouched innocence. And if I were able to stand there, surrounded by those children, with the knowledge of their fast approaching fate . . . I don't know, it is hard to find the words. I believe I might be undone. And I imagine Jesus in that room, in that slowed down time. I imagine him walking up and down the rows of desks, heavy are his steps, pausing to hug each child, wishing he could stop the mad clockwork (whether he can't, or whether he won't, is for theologians and interested parties to argue about on another day) of imminent terror. But he offers them the one thing he has offered the world since forever, the one thing he won't be denied in extending, to be with them in their pain, in their darkest hour.

The second: I think about my sons. I haven't taught myself to love them. I haven't grown to love them. The day they were born (not three years ago between the two of them) a love in my soul, not there before, appeared. This love is not theoretical and dependent--it is there, for better or worse, not unlike a third arm. Which is to say, I don't have to wonder if it is there or if it is going anywhere. If someone said, "how do you know that you love them?" my only reasonable response could be "how do you know that you breathe?" When I dwell on this unexplainable and undeniable love, my heart swells. When I ponder the depth of that love, I can feel it reach into my very own flesh and blood--they are bound up in me, and I in them, and no bond could be stronger. So when something happens in the world like what happened on Friday, I can't help but wonder what it would be like to see my own boys cut down by unspeakable evil.

I don't know what it would be like. My heart begins to wander down that road, and my mind cuts it off, because the pain doubles and doubles and I can't complete the act of wayward imagining. All I know is that, if the unimaginable were made manifest, part of me would be cut out of myself, and the thought of recovery would feel like betrayal to my sons. Wailing and unrestrained rage is only the beginning of what I can imagine. And then there would be all that time. I can imagine what the first hour would be like, the explosive pain would be the obvious first step to all. But six hours later, it would be evening and you would have to return to your empty home. And you would wake the next morning, if you were able to sleep, and it would only be a reminder that this wasn't a nightmare. I can't imagine the hours and days and months when there is no rage, anger and regret, but only empty time; time filled with echoes of memories and joy and life you can't have back.