I almost feel wordless. My expressions of outrage or grief or sadness seem useless and banal when confronting the granitic reality of the 28 murders. I’ve noticed the same effect in some commentators on TV – a hesitation, a stuttering, an uncertainty about their language, but I also know that by our nature human beings cannot be silent for very long. We cannot refrain from trying to figure this out, to understand what happened, to keep open this most awful, profane box and sort through the horrors so that we might put words to our gut-level repulsion and fury and most importantly find a solution that will save children.
Even with all the mass killings in our history, we did not see this coming, and now it feels to me as if something galvanic has risen out of the earth. Imagine an inverted root system that breaks through to the air on each continent. It sends forth fronds and sprays; when they touch any exposed skin, they radiate impulses of sorrow and love and pity. They raise up each person’s heart. Tens of millions of human beings who have never visited Connecticut, never heard of Newtown, and who had not stepped into a school since they had graduated, suddenly and involuntarily were made part of what might be the largest tribe, those who cherish the most blameless and the youngest of the species. Our primal response is to love and protect these children especially.
Witnessing so many speak of their empathetic reactions does cut into the despair that continues to pulse in the body politic as a whole. A terrible crime has again summoned our capacity for linking to others in bonds of common humanity.
I need to look for some light breaking out of this darkness, but this time empathy is not enough. Pronouncements about the mystery of evil are not enough. There is nothing fated or inevitable about school shootings and mass shootings. They are not predestined. Regardless of what a few dim-witted or rabid public personalities declare, they are not punishments meted out by God, not by any God decent people embrace. We are not helpless. A moral stand must be taken by our elected leaders. Laws must change. We are not Aztecs and should not be sacrificing our children to the god of the assault rifle or the god of the 30 clip magazine.
Christmas is almost here. I’m struggling to see how it makes sense this year, 11 days after Sandy Hook. Christianity says that this is the season when we celebrate the life of a child-God who escaped Herod’s killers; Herod had commanded them to murder all children two years of age or younger “in Bethlehem and in all the coasts thereof (Matthew 2: 13-23).” Christ survived. For that I am thankful, but now I keep thinking of the ones who fell under the swords of the killers. What about them?
I think we have to look inside the crucible and watch how those who are most broken are responding. This week Newtown is burying the victims:
Rabbi Shaul Praver, the leader of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, who has been cast into the national spotlight since the killings, presided over Noah’s funeral. On Sunday, he chanted the El Maleh Rachamin, the Jewish mourner’s prayer, at a nationally televised memorial service attended by President Obama. At the funeral, he said that the secret of Jewish survival was to meet tragedy with resolve.
“We can and we will thrive in the honor of Noah Pozner,” Praver said on Monday. “Let us all make that vow, that we will thrive. We will do something extra in our life, in this world, while we’re here, in his honor. And we can expect the light found in this tremendous sorrow can change the world.”*
I love his words. This is something we can set ourselves to do in the course of daily living; he asks us to begin on an individual level. Rabbi Praver calls upon us to commit ourselves to more than casual acts of kindness. He references an awareness of our limited time in life, and of actions taken to honor Noah — that means a purposeful remembrance, that means a dedication to the principle of doing “something extra in our life,” something that will call forth light. We do possess a span of days to come. We have hours left to us.
And children will watch and measure what we do.