Responding to Insanity: Thoughts on the Sandy Hook Tragedy

griefI am not a psychologist, a priest, a teacher or a parent. I am not an expert in anything. When I first heard about the recent horror in Newtown, Connecticut, I responded with the only thing I really have experience in: being human.

I sat in traffic dumbfounded.
I prayed for the victims and their families.
I cried.

That’s all I really could do.

whyMy experience of true disaster is limited. By human standards, I’ve lived a sheltered, safe and secure life. Natural or man made disasters have never touched me directly. My only experience of anything even close to what happened on the east coast on Friday, December 14th is either academic or second hand.

Listening to the report on NPR, I found myself at a loss. I wanted to say something about the shooting. I wanted to do something that would help. But I didn’t have the words. I didn’t feel I had the right. I was on the other side of the country sitting in my office watching events unfold.

I posted a message on Facebook.

xl_typingThe world gives us horrific acts of violence and tragedy every day. It is always shocking and senseless to me. My heart, thoughts and prayers are with the community and families of Newtown. Do not give in to revenge, hate, fear or despair! Make every act and moment of life one that brings hope, joy, forgiveness and peace. It is the only way we will ever overcome this kind of evil.”

Having worked for news media in past, I knew what was coming. Pundits, talking heads, policy debates, anti-gun and pro-gun advocates, and a review of the event. Over. And over. And over.

05-30-argumentI expected the social media response. I was not the only one who was driven to say something. My feeds were filled with the thoughts and opinions of friends, family members, and acquaintances. Posts were shared and forwarded; memes of all varieties became patchwork quilts of opinion.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of hate. I suppose there was already blood in the water. It makes sense that cannibalism followed.

People began to make statements about violence, or gun control, or god in school, or mental health, or politics, or revenge. Those that disagreed reacted immediately. There was arguing, ad hominem attacks, and unfriending. The intellectual part of me understood points on all sides, even if I didn’t agree with some of them. The emotional part of me didn’t give a shit.

forgiveness26 people are dead. 20 of them children.

Nothing will bring those lives back. Nothing will ever fill the void left in Newtown, Connecticut. All our vitriol does is make those deaths even more painful.

We have a right to be angry.
We have a need to be scared.
But let’s bury our dead first.

Let’s mourn as a community and nation. Let’s come together to remember lives lost too soon. Let’s hold our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, and let them know that we’re here. We understand. We hurt. We’re human. Let’s begin the healing process.

Then maybe we can create some real change that will help move us away from insanity and closer to our shared humanity.

How do you say goodbye?

Recently, my wife’s grandfather passed away. He had advanced stage Alzheimer’s. I remember meeting him before we were married. There was barely a person there. He lived another 6 years. He outlived his wife while in the care center.

Tonight, my wife said, “I’m confused. I feel like I should be more broken up about my grandfather dying.” My response: “What you’re feeling is probably relief. You saw him at his worst, and are happy now that he isn’t suffering.”

She said her goodbyes years ago.

People react differently to death. My own grandmother passed away a few months ago. I wasn’t able to go to the funeral because airlines wanted $700 for a ticket. I’m still not sure how I feel about it; I definitely haven’t dealt with the reality fully. In the back of my mind, she is still living in Arizona. Until I realize that she’s not.

I still haven’t cried.

Which is strange. I cry over stupid crap. I lost water weight after every episode of Touch on FOX. Don’t get me started over the first 5 minutes of Pixar’s Up. Doesn’t my grandmother deserve tears?

It’s not that sadness isn’t there. It is. I can feel it inside; I could feel it when I spoke with her on the phone for the last time. I feel it every time I talk to my mom and my aunt. I felt it when Heather told me her grandfather died. Grief is there, but it won’t come out.

Part of me feels my grief is selfish. My grandmother was an amazing woman filled with love, faith, and charity. She was a good Irish Catholic grandmother. Why should I cry over such an amazing and good life? She lives on in my memory, and if Christianity has anything to say about the afterlife, I am pretty dang sure she is rejoicing in heaven with Jesus. If anything, I should live my life better in her memory.

Maybe this is why I haven’t cried. To me, she isn’t gone yet. In my heart and in my mind, she is still with me. My memories keep her alive well past when her body gave out. She still makes me want to be a better grandson, husband, future father and human being. None of those things make me sad.

Like my wife, maybe I am just relieved that she isn’t in pain anymore. Her death wasn’t tragic or untimely. She had a full and good life. That is nothing for me to cry over.

I miss you grandma. Even if the tears won’t come.