Hello, Readers. Welcome back to this week’s installment. I have to confess that I had plans this week to attempt to create an exceptionally witty post. I even had what I thought were a few creative ideas with which to stimulate your collective fancies. Like the boxes of ornaments in the attic, I planned to dust off a few of my usual Christmas-time jokes. Let’s see, there’s my seasonally updateable “how do you get an elf pregnant” joke and my favorite holiday joke; you know, the one where I show off my colored balls and put on my mistletoe belt buckle.
Over the past few years I’ve always written about what comes easily for me to write. I suppose a person could rightfully accuse me of laziness in that regard. However, the truth is that I am only capable of writing what comes easily for me to write.
Normally, my hectic work schedule and my just-as-busy personal life account for the gaps in between my posts—particularly the off-season ones. Many times, though, those gaps are created by what is commonly referred to as writer’s block.
So what’s my point?
As a male well into his adulthood few things either impress me or capture my attention anymore. In fact, that’s a big reason why it’s easy for me to write about the inane content of The Bachelor each week. As small children we were all once enthralled to the point of uncontainable fascination by the face of a parent simply popping out from behind the cover of a blanket and declaring “peek-a-boo” before themselves dissolving into the same fit of laughter on our toothless faces. Very few, if any, things like that remain for us as adults. That’s why we bungee jump or take exotic vacations, I suppose. Unfortunately—like it or not—boredom is a consequence of experience.
Like most of you reading, last Friday, December 14, began just about as normally and uneventfully as any other day begins. I awoke, showered, dressed, and headed to work. I left for my usual lunchtime trip to the gym and deadened myself to my surroundings with the help of the Pandora App on my iPhone and began to run. In front of the treadmills at my gym is a long line of television sets, all of which are tuned to different stations so as to maximize my overt attempt at sensory over saturation which, of course, leads me inevitably to my Zen place until the pain in my knees and back jerks me back into reality like that giant cane they used to use on the Vaudevillians.
Five minutes into my run I began seeing the footage from the Sandy Hook Elementary School and as I read the captions below the pictures I experienced a visceral reaction that I frankly have not experienced since picking up the phone on September 11, 2001, and hearing my father tell me that my two cousins (a New York Fireman and a New York Policeman) were at Ground Zero.
I am sickened physically and exhausted mentally over the gratuitous and unabated coverage of these events. I am appalled by the overwhelming speculation by reporters and various other talking heads. I am flabbergasted that children as young as 6 years old were interviewed at the site of the shootings and asked to recount what they saw inside of the school. I am horrified that the shooter was in a very real sense a child himself. I am angry at the opportunism spawned by this event on both sides of the political aisle. I am saddened beyond measure by the death of the 7 adults, many of whom probably knew what fate awaited them but nevertheless remained to face it in the name of protecting the children in that school. But most of all, I am devastated at the loss of the 20 children—all between 5 and 7 years old—who did nothing but go to school that day.
In a way, I have no choice but to write about this today. JP and Ashley’s wedding special was a meaningless, ridiculous event prior to Friday. Today, it barely deserves acknowledgement.
So here we are. I’d like to share some of my thoughts about the shootings. I’m sorry if many of you came here looking for an escape from the coverage, the faces of those children, and the immeasurable loss inflicted upon the parents and families of all of those who died. If you’d like to stop reading, I understand. Come back next week.
I’ll start—appropriately enough, I think--with a book that is ironically required reading for school age children.
“But while I was sitting down, I saw something that drove me crazy. Somebody'd written 'fuck you' on the wall. It drove me damn near crazy. I thought how Phoebe and all the other little kids would see it, and how they'd wonder what the hell it meant, and then finally some dirty kid would tell them— all cockeyed naturally— what it meant, and how they'd all think about it and maybe even worry about it for a couple of days. I kept wanting to kill whoever'd written it.” ― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Salinger’s protagonist, Holden Caulfield, himself obsessed with the idea of staying young in order to preserve the time before he lost his innocence, knew through his own experience that freedom from the world’s “fuck you’s” is a thing that deserves to be prolonged as long as it can be prolonged—perhaps longer. Yet, Holden himself discovers that it is impossible to prevent the children from running innocently through the metaphorical rye and falling off the cliff.
From a parent’s perspective, all a parent knows is the protection of his child. Inherent in every parent is Holden Caulfield’s desire to keep his child safe. Said another way:
“He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke” --Cormac McCarthy, The Road
As “deep” as that may strike you, I’m not certain it fits neatly into what happened at that school last week. Those children—the ones who died—died as innocent as the day they were born. They were not escapees running unwittingly and unknowingly through the rye. They were victims in the purest sense of the word and perhaps that is the most horrific part of this entire “thing.”
“Nature where everything comes from, nature where everything falls back, leaves, nests, soft branches that the air does not dare rustle, don't make noise around this tomb; let the child sleep and the mother weep!” wrote Victor Hugo.
Indeed, those mothers will be weeping for a long time. What’s worse is the relentless media onslaught and the mind-numbing political opportunism of the “gun control” and “mental health” advocates. What happened to civilized debate and respect for the dead, I ask myself every time I turn on the television to see the latest reactionary response or self-aggrandizing political speech about “doing something” in the name of “our children.” It’s obscene, really.
One of my close friends is an Emergency Medicine doctor at the busiest high trauma hospital here in Austin. I often meet him for drinks or dinner and, in the right moment, he opens up about the desensitization required in order for him to perform his job. He once told me that aside from being rarely and momentarily bothered by “good people in bad situations” he is able to completely remove himself emotionally from his work—with one exception.
“There is nothing worse than telling parents they’ve lost their child,” he once said before getting up from the table and immediately changing the subject upon his return from the restroom. I suppose the doctors and first responders who were forced by the sheer coincidence of being scheduled to work during the hours of the shootings will carry the weight of carrying out that horrific responsibility forever.
Look, this blog is many things, but it’s never been political and it sure as hell is not a vehicle for social statement. I suppose this is as close as I’ll come before retreating into the safety, stupidity, and ease of armchair quarterbacking a meaningless reality show (please pardon the redundancy). If you’ll humor me for a bit, however, I have a few more things to say. I promise to be brief.
First, regardless of your personal stance on guns, the Second Amendment, mental health, or any other hot button issue grabbed by whatever opponent and defended by whatever advocate happened to pick up the phone when Nancy Grace or Bill O’Reilly called, I think it’s worth noting (this, I confess, is the attorney in me) that all of the facts of this crime are simply not known.
My own opinion is that Mr. Lanza would have found a method and a means to do what he did regardless of his access to firearms and ammunition. Picking up a gun in the heat of the moment is one thing (ask Marvin Gaye’s father, for instance), but planning something like this is another. The two largest attacks on this country were perpetrated with fertilizer and box cutters and both were planned for years. I suspect (unfortunately) that regardless of the outcome of this particular series of events, others will inevitably follow.
On a side note, I waited until after December 21 to post this just in case the world ended like the Mayans predicted. It struck me after midnight on that day that if the Mayans were smart enough to predict the end of the world then there would still be Mayans. Back to my rant.
Still, I understand that basic human need to “do something” rather than wallow in the realization that we are all, in a real sense of the word, helpless to prevent these sorts of things from happening. I suspect that’s what’s really going on in the minds of those holding signs in front of buildings or hurling profanities at other temporarily insane, just as passionate people on the other side of the street. It’s difficult to have an open mind when something like this happens. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to reach any semblance of a solution.
Likewise, I’ve seen a mountain of articles, interviews, and blog posts (I’ve been interested in this quite a bit) declaring that God was (or wasn’t) there or that He caused (or didn’t cause) the deaths of the children or, in the alternative, that he permitted this to happen. I’ve read that gay marriage and abortion law are the cause of this and that the taking of innocent children is God’s way of getting our attention.
My response to all of that is (again, this is the lawyer in me speaking) is that it is impossible to know the mind of another person much less the Creator of the entire Universe. Any attempt to espouse His real intent, involvement, indeed, even his presence at the event, is simply speculation on our part. We’d all do better to believe quietly what we believe and to simply yet deliberately put those into action. The parents, siblings, grandparents, family members, and friends who lost someone in that school need help not a lesson.
I’d like to end this by reminding all of you that Christmas is upon us. Whether that’s a secular holiday or the most important religious holiday of the year for you, it’s a time when the world tends to slow down long enough for us to reflect on the goodness in all of us. Even during the worst time in my life when I was marred by cynicism (and a few other –isms) there was something about seeing the Christmas lights along the neighborhood streets or coming home to turn on the television to see the Peanuts gang singing Silent Night around that famous Charlie Brown Christmas tree that always made me smile. Keep that in mind for me, would you?
Shakespeare wrote about the loss of a child in the last act of Hamlet.
Your cause of sorrow
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end
Let’s all hope that an end eventually comes to the abject suffering of the survivors of the Sandy Hook shootings. If not, let’s hope they all find enough peace to live their lives. In spite of the miss of the Mayans, I doubt there is enough time left in the lives of the survivors with which to make true peace. Perhaps some meaning will come of all of this.
However, in the likely event that meaning refuses to show its face, let’s all take the time to notice a child and to appreciate the laughter and the smiles that radiate from within them. Let us all take an extra second to notice the look on their faces when they open “Santa’s” gifts and may we all laugh hysterically at the icing on their Christmas cookie-filled faces---all the while appreciating the fact that those priceless gifts were stolen from 26 sets of parents on December 14th, 2012, for absolutely no reason at all.
Jane Austen wrote, “If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.”
For now, I will talk about it no more.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. Be safe. I’ll see you back here in January. DP