Monday, December 17, 2012

On the Death of Children

Before I begin, I just want to disclaim a bit. I'm struggling to process and understand my own personal reaction to the Connecticut tragedy and the responses to it - I very well might express opinions or thoughts contrary to your own responses and feelings on the matter. I don't intend to condemn or condone any reaction, my own included - simply to process how I've reacted.

That being said, I find it more than bit troubling how the world so easily claims this tragedy as it's own. Of course every death is a tragedy and the death of children even moreso because we recognize the loss of what could be. I don't have any problem expressing remorse and voicing the reality of the injustice and evil of an act like the killing of kindergarten students in Connecticut this week. I don't think we should ignore it.

I do think we should have firm and sensible boundaries. A Facebook meme with a lengthy quote attributed to the actor, Morgan Freeman, made the rounds in the wake of the tragedy - it expressed a desire for us to stop focusing so much on these mass killings - making the perpetrators defacto celebrities and perhaps incidently inciting more. I'm not just talking about the media - after all journalism, as tasteless and exhausting as it can be sometimes, is an important service. I don't think we need 24 hour coverage. I don't think we need interviews with little children who just escaped such a terror or a high school classmate of the shooter. They do it for ratings and because we have this inherent desire to know.

I'm not sure it's good for us to have that need satisfied.

I'll just say I don't understand how so many people find a tragedy like this makes them think more about their own children. I saw all the Facebook posts of people hugging their children. I've tried to figure out what mindset brings people to those posts - my only answers are unkind and likely untrue; I won't share them here. I do have a child now, one I love quite a bit - but I don't find myself more in love, more sentimental or more anything in the wake of this tragedy. One thing I do resonate with - I can't even imagine losing her.

I think that's what bothers me most. Those who haven't lost children really can't identify - we'd like to think we can, we'd like to think we have something to offer besides prayers and condolences. We don't. We're helpless and we're disconnected and we don't like it.

I think it's entirely appropriate for the President to stand up and acknowledge the tragedy and loss - to pledge the nation's support. I don't think it's appropriate for him to show up. It's not a national tragedy. It's a very localized tragedy in a small Connecticut town, specifically for 27 families and those who are a part of their lives. It is certainly evidence of a troubling national epidemic, but it shouldn't be treated as part of a larger problem. That's a disservice to those in mourning.

Certainly there are things we can do to help - but its a general help, not a specific one. There's absolutely nothing we can do for these families but allow them time and space to mourn. We can have those discussions of gun safety and the mental health process - we can work to shape our society into one where things like this occur less.

I also think we can leave the grieving to grieve. I am not saying we abandon the families of the dead - not at all. But we can't mourn with those who mourn when we have no connection to them. Ninety-nine percent of us don't have any connection to these deaths - allow those who do to represent us in comfort.

We want to express outrage - to feel like we have some power over the evil in our world. These are good honest responses, but sometimes focusing on a problem from which we're disconnected keeps us from addressing similar problems in our own communities. In 2011, more than 14 children were killed by guns every day of the year, just in the US. The number rises precipitously when the age goes to 18. 40,000 children die of starvation in the world every year. Nearly a dozen kids are killed by their own parents every day as a result of abuse or neglect.

I suspect, more than better gun laws or improved mental health services, we're most likely to prevent things like this from happening by being present and available to suffering in our own neighborhoods and communities.

If you need to hug your children extra, please do so. If you need conversation in your workplace or congregation or around the dinner table to help deal with the trauma, by all means have it. I am not trying to diminish your response or the tragedy that has happened, I just hope to remember, for myself if no one else, that pain and tragedy exist all around us. Our society has gotten pretty good at hiding it, which is why these times it smashes out into the open trouble us so deeply.

I'm not upset, necessarily, with what's being done. The desire and urge to help those far away from us is righteous and positive. At the same time, it's difficult to stomach in a culture where everyone and everything seems kept at arms length.

We have grandiose ambitions and we live in a super-sized world. We want massive solutions to massive problems - when likely the most effective course of action is, once again, to love your neighbor.

That's when things get messy. That's exactly what the people of Newtown, Connecticut are discovering in the wake of this terrible event. For me, at least, it seems disrespectful to assume I can have some part in that from far away. As much as I desire to comfort and solve. I just can't - not as a stranger hundred of miles away.

I'd like to hope (I am an optimist beneath all these contrarian ideas) that the legacy of this disaster could be a renewed sense of community around the country and perhaps the world. That we could find, on the other side of this loss, pain, and confusion, a sense of community and connection - some small piece of the relational world in which God created us to live.

I have to embrace my place, my town, my people - to own my pain and the pain around me. This just doesn't work from a distance.

No comments: