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Grieving for Newton, CT December 14, 2012

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Blogging.
Tags: , , ,

This morning, families all across the United States got their children ready for school, packed lunches (or gave them lunch money), walked them to the bus stop (or dropped them off), and otherwise went about their normal routine. This was just another school day for many families.

Tonight, however, there are families in Newton, CT that are grieving the loss of their children, along with several school officials, at the hands of a gunman. In a matter of hours, the national attention has shifted to the horrific acts of one man, and the countless lives that his actions have permanently altered. Having worked in Connecticut in recent years, and seeing the names of the various communities as part of my regular job, I can remember the people and places… vividly.

I’m grieving for Newton, CT.

On Facebook, as elsewhere, my friends are clamoring for solutions. There are gun-control proponents, eager to point to this tragedy as one “easily prevented.” There are home-schooling advocates (or would-be advocates) that are pointing to this as “yet another reason to keep your kids out of public schools.” There are even well-intentioned Christians that are openly blaming this event on our society pushing God out of the public school system, and out of public life in general. (The last type of comment left me wondering if someone believes a public posting of the Ten Commandments or a morning prayer would have somehow stopped this morning’s gunman.)

There are, as you would expect, people clamoring for both the politicization and non-politicization of this event. Some would have us wait, and debate solutions (which generally involve gun-control) for another time. Others sarcastically suggest that waiting even a moment for debate should be treated like someone who wants to perpetually postpone an appointment with the dentist.

The most thoughtful comments appear to have been the calls for more accessible mental health care. As a nation, they point out, we seem eager to learn who has mental health issues when they try to buy a gun, but we seem to have much less concern for treating their mental illness in any meaningful or lasting way. We seem content to turn such a person away at the gun counter, gently pushing them back into society, smugly proud that we have kept the gun from their hands. (My guess is we just push them to the next gun dealer, or the private individual who isn’t constrained by such legislation.)

Nowhere in the billions of dollars we seem willing to throw at problems has there been mention of dealing with such underlying issues. This reminds me of our national approach to fighting terrorism, which is to try to catch terrorists as they board airplanes or enter public venues, rather than looking at the situations that are causing people to hate with such intensity that they are willing to fly airplanes into buildings and blow themselves up in public places.

As for me? I sit in confusion at all of this.

I am grieved, deeply, for the families who have lost loved ones today. I am grieved for the first responders who arrived at this grisly scene, and had to attend to victims that they would never expect to have suffered gunshot wounds. I am grieved, deeply, for the family of the gunman who so horribly took the lives of innocent children. However, my grief doesn’t end there. My grief doesn’t end with this event.

Years ago, I stood in an airport in Ethiopia and watched dozens of teenage girls giggling as they prepared to board a plane that I learned was bound for Dubai. The girls ranged from 12 to 15. I later learned that, although they believed they were going to work for rich families as babysitters and nannies, they would all-too-soon discover that they had been sold, generally as sexual slaves. The lucky ones would perform actual babysitting duties, but to have a chance at “earning” their eventual freedom (and a plane ticket home), they would have to perform additional “services.”

I grieved for the girls that I saw that day, and every time I think of them. I grieved for their fathers, who justify their actions by saying “I can feed the rest of my children for an entire year for the price of a single daughter.” This, in a culture that would never dream of selling a son.

Last week, I drove by the scene of the “Carrollton Bus Crash,” where a school bus full of church kids on their way home from an amusement park were killed by a drunk driver going the wrong way on Interstate 71. As happens each time I pass the memorial sign, I grieved for the families that lost children that day.

Tonight, a friend of mine said, “If an extra child died for the next 20 days because of drunk driving, America wouldn’t even notice. This reaction is very strange to me.”

It’s strange to me too.

The suddenness and brutality clearly shock us, and thus our desire to “do something.” After all, losing children one or two at a time hardly garners the kind of news coverage that a mass shooting does, especially if the cause is something relatively common like alcohol abuse. As my friend (who is an avid gun-owner) also said, “firearms are no doubt an accelerant… he would have killed with a sword, but there’s little doubt there would have been fewer children dead tonight.”

Several years ago, right after the school shooting in Columbine, CO, someone asked me if I was going to pull my children from their public elementary school and put them into a private school, or better yet, to homeschool them. I responded with a steadfast belief:

“I refuse to curse the children at my local school by withholding the blessing of my son’s presence, even if doing so puts my sons lives in danger.”

My friend appeared confused, so I continued:

“My sons are compassionate, caring, and empathetic individuals. If someone is hurting, has been bullied, is being mistreated, or is somehow being dismissed by their peers, I trust that my sons will be agents of change. I accept the risk that someone at their school might hurt them.”

My friend’s silence signaled more confusion, so I went on:

“I’m teaching my sons to create an environment where someone with a problem has at least one friend they can talk to. I’m teaching my sons to be the kind of people that care too much to let someone who is in that much pain go unnoticed.”

Withdrawing, disarming, arming, attacking… all of those “solutions” address symptoms. I sit and wonder if we would do much better to grieve over the senseless killings today, and then let that motivate us to not allow those around us to suffer in such isolation that they would ever be compelled to commit such acts. Even if we don’t possess the skills to solve someone’s problem, we may be the only one listening to them when they cry out (as people seem to do) before they act.

So maybe it’s time to spend more time listening, loving, and caring for the “socially disconnected,” oddballs, and weirdos around us. It costs us little, and we don’t have to wait for either party in Congress, our friends on Facebook, or anyone else to agree upon some broader solution.


1. mary Isdahl - December 15, 2012

Wow, well said, I can say I have to agree. We’ve raised our kids to be compassionate and try to be there for others in need too.

2. Kathleen Plant - December 15, 2012

I agree wholeheartedly!

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