Authors Note: I wrote this on Saturday morning December 15, 2012 after sitting up most of the night thinking about what had happened in Newtown, CT the day before. Sitting in my den I could hear my children playing and the thoughts I had just crytallized and came out. Sometimes there is a story, or words in your soul that have to come out. I shared what is below with friends and family and many encouraged me to share them more broadly so here they are.
There Are No Words To Console……
On the night Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed Senator Robert F Kennedy had a scheduled campaign rally in downtown Indianapolis among a crowd of blacks and whites. Despite a lot of advice to the contrary he still took to the stage.
He told them the news that many of them had not yet heard. Then he offered words to unite them, to remind them of a shared human condition and words to console.
“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago; to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”
That night, while other cities were burning, the people of Indianapolis went home and prayed for Dr. King, for their country and for themselves. There was no violence. Senator Kennedy eased the pain of a tragic night.
A little over two months later Senator Kennedy would be dead by assassin’s bullets.
After watching the horrifying events in Newtown, CT, I like every parent and every person was driven to find some sense.
The people of Newtown must know that there are many that they do not know, many they will never know and never meet who are with them. We pray, we cry, we feel anger, we feel regret, we rage against what Dylan Thomas called “The dying of the light”.
I live a couple hundred miles from Newtown. I do not know anyone there. I do not know any of the victims or their families.
Yet I cried.
Friday afternoon I watched the President of the United States weep openly, powerless to defend these children. His words were beautiful, the words of a good and decent man, speaking some of the very same words that so many of us felt. But he was not a President, he was like so many just a father and a man.
There were no words to console…..
Last night I could not sleep for a long, long time. Awake in the darkness I thought of parents in their homes with the huge void of a child who would not return. Though the bullets of destruction never touched them, the gunman’s shots tore holes through the parents’ hearts.
While I was awake in my home, I knew that my own young children were safe. But my mind thought of those parents, and my heart ached for them. Their child was not home, they would never again hear the laughter, the voices, the words “I love you Mommy” or “I Love you Daddy” from their little beautiful child.
In those houses are now-empty rooms staring at those parents, a visual reminder of what was lost. Still worse a mother who could not yet hold her child, to face the truth and mourn the loss and weep the tears a mother should be able to weep over the body of a lost child.
Their child was still in that school, still in the very same spot where those little ones were forced to look into the very face of evil with no parent to protect them, going to God in the most horrifying of manners.
There are children who lost a parent in that school. A mother of five who will not walk through the door at the end of the school day any more to offer hugs and kisses to her children.
These adults went fighting, fighting to protect children from the forces of evil. They did what they could and for that the Lord will offer them sanctuary in heaven.
Yet for their families all over Newtown, CT there is loss and there is unspeakable pain.
There are no words to console….
I am a man who has faith in the God I pray to. But even those with faith much stronger than mine have had their foundations rocked by what happened.
This was satan among us and where was God to defend these children? Was not this man made in God’s image? Yet how did he become an instrument of all this?
In what dark recess of his mind did this hatred reside and what dam broke that allowed it to pour forth and flood the lives of so many with pain?
Why did these children have to go before the evil doer with no one at their side to calm them in their last moments? Why God, why God did they have to see this, did they have to face the fear?
Like so many others I want to shake my fist at God. I am angry, I am shaken, I am lost searching for some reason.
The Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel once said “We talk about Providence when things in the world work out the way we know they should.”
This is not how things in the world are supposed to work out. There is not supposed to be the massacre of innocence and the innocent.
I dare not demand an answer from my God, but I am powerless to control the involuntary impulses of my mind’s thoughts as I see the work of man among us. We are all human, saddled with the baggage of our human frailty. For that we need not apologize to God.
Lincoln said of prayer “I’ve been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that I have no place else to go.” In the face of this horror, we have no place else to go.
We are bound by the common hopes for our children. The destruction of one child, and one family’s dreams takes a piece from all of us.
If these are my thoughts, a man with no direct connection to these events, how must the people in Newtown feel?
There are no words to console…..
This morning I thought of the first responders, the men and women working through the night to investigate this tragedy. They had to walk into that school and rooms to piece together what happened. What a horrific sight they must have seen.
It is something that even, no doubt, the most hardened and veteran person could not comprehend. They will never ever forget what they have seen.
For that my heart aches for the reality they had to witness. They bore witness to and the scars from the handiwork of the evil one. They will need help, they will need to heal.
There are no words to console…..
There were children who survived. Their parents rejoiced in the good news that their children returned home and would sleep safely in their beds. But both those parents and their children face a reality forever altered by the acts of one man.
While their children are home these parents must walk amongst many others bearing the grief of irrevocable loss. There will be moments of guilt in rejoicing one’s salvation while seeing the pain of others so close to your home.
There is an awful truth that these parents of the children who got out alive will face. Their children are home, but they will be forever changed. They heard the gunshots, they heard the screams, they knew the children and adults who will never walk among them again.
There will be tears and nightmares, there will be wounds that can never be completely healed. The parents of these children will suffer knowing they can never completely take away that pain.
There are no words to console….
In ten days there will be Christmas. In many of these homes there are already presents for lost children that they will never open. What might have been? Parents may have picked the perfect present that their young kindergarten child had always wanted, knowing they would hear a squeal of joy, or see a wide smile, their child excitedly jumping up and down.
Parents relish a moment like that, but for them that moment will not come again. That present sits like a ticking bomb to be discovered in the Christmas gift hiding place only to explode through the soul of a mother or father who realize the smile just days hence will never happen.
I learned from someone once that “When you become a parent your happiness is defined by your least happy child.”
Those words haunt me today as I reflect on the community of Newtown. The happiness of the children who died and those who survived has been taken. Those parents have wounds too new to have even scarred yet. But they will remain.
My father lost a four-year old brother to illness. Nearly eighty years after that loss I asked him about it. He remembered his mother weeping and wailing, her inconsolable grief.
“I don’t think she ever did get over that.” He said.
“Dad, I don’t know that a parent ever can completely.” I said.
He agreed and we walked on.
Right now is not time to argue the future, it is not time for the pro-gun, and gun-safety lobby to be on television. Their arguments and their petty squabbles seem small and even offensive in these days immediately after this tragedy. Allow the familes and the community to grieve and honor those lost.
For whatever reason and for whatever the cause, we as a country seem to have a penchant for gun violence that sooner or later we have to face and overcome. The Talmud teaches that “Some are guilty but all are responsible.” That is the undeniable truth we face.
Scripture tells us “The day is long and the work is great and we're not commanded to finish the work, but neither are we allowed to desist from it.” We must not allow ourselves to desist from the work towards a less violent future, one that won’t come from laws, or lobbying, slogans or television ads.
It will come when we as Bobby Kennedy said “tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of this world.”
Only when we have made gentle the pain of this country and the ways of our world, then may we find the words to console.