There is something wrong with us as a nation when 20 young children are massacred in their classroom – one in a long line of such travesties. It keeps happening, more often here than in any other supposedly civilized country in the world. And it has to stop.
What can anyone say? Perhaps we could turn around the oft-heard phrase “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” by acknowledging that so many people would not do so – and in such numbers – without the ready access to an assault rifle such as that the killer used.
We could discuss the difficulty of dealing with mental illness when patients have been turned out of facilities or forego treatment because of budget cuts or a refusal of a family (or an individual) to admit that there is a problem. Perhaps we could expand on that subject, bemoaning the continued (and wrong-minded) stigma/shame/denial of mental illness – and why it is so hard for average people to get (and afford) help when it is needed for themselves or a family member.
We could talk about evil.
Or we could ask this: What can we do today that might offer at least a small note of solace?
And we are stumped by our own question.
At the interfaith service Sunday evening in Newtown, Conn., President Barack Obama said he would use “whatever power this office holds” to engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent more tragedies.
“What choice do we have?” Obama said on a stage that held only a small table covered with a black cloth, candles and the presidential podium – and no other trappings of his office. “Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”
We cannot delay asking why mental illness goes untreated and why these elements came together to so brutally attack an entire town’s hopes for the future. And we must, in the depths of despair at what happened in a place where everyone felt so safe, find a way to keep the conversation civil and ongoing.
For if we don’t do this now, inevitably we will have yet another tragedy to rage against, to report, to regret.
As the families of Newtown begin to bury their dead – the children and the adults who performed so bravely to protect them – we can be conscious of their sorrow, even in the midst of being lost in our own gratitude that our children are safe – at least for today.
In the coming days, as they continue the agonizing task of learning to cope with such loss, we can’t simply say it must never happen again. We must find common ground to work harder than we ever have before to make sure it doesn’t.