Nothing to Say, Except One Thing
I’ve wanted to talk about the shooting since it happened. I had a lot of points I wanted to hit, but something kept tugging at me and bothering me about my initial reaction to it. And I was also trying to figure out if my thoughts and feelings were important enough to write down or even appropriate to broach.
I’ll start with the obvious:
It takes no great skill to pull the trigger of a gun.
No great genius to plan murder.
No feat of courage to kill a child.
Murderers should be portrayed as pathetic.
That’s all easy and that’s all true, and we should all think and know those things. We also SHOULD be talking to each other about those kinds of things. But even talking about it as if what I think is going to change the debate or even help one person… when held next to the reality of a dead child… makes my mouth go a bit dry, to be honest. One of the rules I made up for myself when I decided to change was “Be Aggressively Human at All Times.” I think I let that slip a bit, and I only got it back in the gym the other night when I was watching news coverage and got sick to my stomach and had to turn off the televisions. Thinking about those scared kids and remembering what it was like when I saw someone die in a school.
In the last few hours of today what I’ve been thinking about my reaction to this tragedy is:
It takes no great skill to sit and stare.
No great genius to talk about the aftermath of a tragedy.
No feat of courage to say my feelings are important when other people have feelings much more personal and pertinent than my own.
Talking about your thoughts and feelings when you have no influence on the subject, and are not seeking that influence, is kind of pathetic.
Right after it happened, I “tweeted” and “liked” things on facebook about the shooting as if what I had to say was somehow special and would help people process what had happened. I thought about posting “status updates” like press releases that would make people think in a more helpful way and change the world just a little bit for the better. I guess it’s not awful for me to want to do that. I mean, the reason most of you reading this are reading this is because you want to know my take on things. We don’t know each other, personally. That’s the function that I serve in your life.
To be honest, nothing I have to say about this is very special. There are many other people who will say pretty much exactly what I have to say, better than I ever could. It’s only in the last few hours that I’ve started to feel a little bit sick to my stomach about my first reaction. Maybe we try to do these things because, as humans, there’s nothing more offensive and anathema to us than the idea of a problem we can’t fix.
A year ago, I probably would have “blogged” about the problem of making murderers into celebrities. And while I still feel that’s deeply true, and should be talked about more, I’ve had to accept a lot of truths I can’t fix in the last nine months. Had to do a lot of things I couldn’t take back. And all that’s left when everything is said and done and the dice have fallen as they’ve fallen, is carrying on living with what’s already happened.
I’m not the person to talk to you about gun control, or media coverage, or anything else. I’m here to be a human being for you. That’s my job.
I do have one thing to say, as a human, and that’s this:
There’s nothing more offensive than life creeping back in around the edges of tragedy.
That’s the worst thing we ever experience as people. That’s worse than the pain, even. Everyone hates pain because it hurts, but we also love pain because it’s validating. Pain is as addictive as any drug. Pain digs right into the meat of us and tells us that we’re special, that we were somehow chosen to bear this pain, that we are unique in all the world for bearing this pain. It’s when the rest of the world starts creeping in and telling you that’s not true, because the sun is still coming up, and people are looking right past you on the street instead of being overcome with awe that you can even stand up and walk, that we really start to lose our minds.
I know you’re probably reading this and maybe feeling a little bit guilty you don’t feel worse than you do and thinking this seems overwrought. Even I feel guilty I can’t feel bad enough, and I’m the one writing this goddamn blog. It seems wrong to know that this isn’t going to ruin my (and probably your) week, if I’m (we’re) being totally honest. I know enough about myself to know that I will, over the next couple of months, and maybe a few times many years from now, think about those children and the parents of those children and have moments of dizzying empathy. But I get those when I see pictures of drone strikes too. I empathize with people in tragedy all the time. Someone somewhere is always having a very bad time of things.
Right here and right now, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not the parent of one the victims. You can’t feel as badly as you should, because you’re really not supposed to be feeling that badly.
It’s part of what I call: “The Awfulness of the World.”
But here’s something I think of that maybe makes the Awfulness of the World a little less awful. And that’s other people. And love. And laughter. And renewal. So, I’ll do the thing right now that I’m supposed to do for your life and I’ll tell a little story and hopefully it will make you feel a bit better even if you weren’t feeling that awful:
There was pretty much only one person that everyone on my dad’s side of the family loved all of the time. Seeing as how at any given moment half of my family isn’t speaking with the other half, that’s no small feat. Her name was Eva. She was deaf and never had a family of her own. She spent her whole life taking care of her sister’s kids. Namely my dad and his brothers and sisters. Trapped by handicaps, and the expectations of her time, she never had a life of her own. She just looked after other people and could never imagine personal happiness for herself. Basically, she was me nine months ago.
When Eva died, everyone cried. EVERYONE. Partly, I think (only now as I write this), because everyone was thinking of how unfair Eva’s life had been and how their need of Eva had created that unfairness. My dad was blubbering. My uncles were blubbering. Little kids who didn’t really know what was going on were blubbering because the peanut butter and jelly sandwich lady wasn’t going to be making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anymore. And to a little kid that’s like being in Vietnam after stepping on a mine and walking around carrying your own blown-off arm in your one good still-attached limb wondering when the world will start making sense again, because you’re just some dumb kid from Ohio who got drafted straight out of high school and hasn’t even had sex yet, but please don’t tell the guys.
So yeah, hysterical kid tears, sending out those hysterical “child who cannot be comforted” pheromones that were making everyone clench their fists and try to keep it together.
So, there we were sitting in the church my uncle Mike goes to that we hold all our funerals in because he’s the only one that has religion in any traditional sense, having found it in jail after giving up a life of construction cons. The pastor was going on one of those long and meandering things I guess you call sermons (but which I’ve always just thought of as verbal meandering) that no one is listens to, really, but he’s saying it in nice and soothing tones which is what a sermon is really there for. You just want a man to be standing there, presuming to speak with the voice of the universe, and having the voice of the universe say “there there, it’s okay.” So that was nice and as it was supposed to be.
Except at one point, a little bit louder than normal, the pastor says “AND JESUS SAID!” which you HAVE to say a little bit louder than the rest of what you were saying because this is something that JESUS said. Then he paused for breath.
Right at that at that exact point in time one of the little kids shouted out “I want my mommy!”
“AND JESUS SAID: I want my mommy!”
And life crept back in around the edges.
Right then and there.
And everyone started laughing.
Even little kids with their scared shell-shocked-no-more-peanut-butter-and-jelly-sandwiches tears.
And then five minutes later everyone was crying, but with a little less blubbering than before.
I guess what I want to say, to make the Awfulness of the World less awful is this: Life will move on and feeling good won’t feel like betrayal forever. And even though if you’re ever in a place where even thinking about feeling good feels like some kind of crime, it’s not. You get to feel good again. It’s part of being alive.
One last rambling afterthought, here because everyone thinks about death and mortality at times like this and I sussed out something useful and human about death and mortality that I didn’t know until recently. Or at least I didn’t know it succinctly until very recently.
I figured out what happens after you die. And it’s not nothing. Nothing would be a comforting thought. It would mean that you were so important the whole universe stopped when you did. But something does happen after you die. In fact, more than just something. What happens after you are gone is everything else except for you. Life goes on all around and over the place you used to be. I used to think that was a trite phrase, “Life Goes On,” but it’s not. That’s the ultimate answer. The how’s and why’s can get all kinds of tricky, but the answer is always the same: Life Goes On.
It feels rude and horrible and awful that anytime anywhere a living moment should follow a dying one, but they can and they do. Every single day. Children are born. People are dying. Justice and injustice sometimes happen a few feet from each other. Life is a big mess. We should try to change it for the better. We should. I’m not saying you should never dare to have an opinion. We should talk and think and speak from our hearts (and instead of hiding behind some kind of political party we should speak to each other as humans) expressing our reason and our humanity. But life is bigger than us and it’s not about us. It’s just there for us to live with and in for a little while. But it will always, always go on.
It’s too soon to go there immediately, except maybe intellectually. We have to take a journey first. That’s part of being a human, too. There are no short-cuts to that kind of journey, nor should there be. The how’s and the why’s of moving on are supposed to be complicated, especially at a time like this. That’s why everyone wants to talk about it. That’s why I wanted to run my mouth off to find “solutions.” Life will go on and it will be good again, but we should take a moment to remember those that passed. The same way we’d want to be remembered. They were here and they mattered very much and will continue to matter long after they are gone in the hearts and lives of those who loved them.
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29, teacher’s aide
Dawn Hochsprung, 47, school principal
Anne Marie Murphy, 52, teacher’s aide
Lauren Rousseau, 30, permanent substitute teacher
Mary Sherlach, 56, school psychologist
Victoria Soto, 27, first-grade teacher