As I went about my normal activity on Friday morning I didn't pay much attention to the beeps emitting from my iPhone and other gadgets laying here and there around my study. I knew they were signaling that there was "breaking news," but I also knew there was rarely much significance to the notices. Probably Lindsey Lohan violating her parole while shopping at Gucci's, I muttered to myself, or perhaps the fiscal cliff negotiators are reporting no progress.
And then I picked up the phone and saw the words scrolling across its 2" x 3" screen. I could only grasp it in pieces. It was as if the full picture, the truth of it all, was too much to take in at once. I turned on the television and just sat there for most of the day. And I cried a lot, something I don't do much.
Later that morning our daughter-in-law sent us a text recounting a conversation she had with Ashley, explaining why she had been crying all morning. I was so grateful for Lyda who knew she had to find words for Ashley at a time when she didn't have the words for herself.
Usually things like this prompt me to write or pontificate in other ways. I try to piece it together, make some larger point, sometimes generate a little dialogue, and then move on. But this time it seemed different. The news outlets were awash in words as people tried to find context or meaning. Sometimes a slice of understanding emerges but the reality evades any kind of summing up. We will have to settle for glimpses here and there, perhaps depending more on poetry than prose.
If there is a big picture here, a sliver of hope, it may be in what feels to me like disorientation. Roles are changing. People are questioning their own positions, no matter how devoted to them they may have been.
The President is being referred to as the Comforter in Chief. His tears on Friday have been replayed over and over, perhaps too often. He takes pride in his stoic demeanor, especially in difficult times. But this time the tears were what we needed. Somebody had to cry for all of us. It was not planned or rehearsed. It just came, undoubtedly in part because the President's own beloved daughters were in his heart as he walked to that podium in the White House.
Sunday night he became a preacher, matching the need to console the broken-hearted with the need to proclaim justice. Religious language does not come easily to him, but he knew that this was a time when the familiar words of scripture would speak in ways that his words would not, especially when spoken with his voice. It was disorienting, but that is why it was important.
Even the gun issue is being processed in a new way. Oh, the talking heads from the NRA are out in force as they always are. But already they are seeming to be irrelevant. Their mindless defense of the right to bear arms like these assault weapons that spray 30 blood-spattering bullets with the pull of a trigger is being seen for the nonsense that it is. For the first time in my memory politicians and commentators with 100% ratings from the NRA are stating, sometimes with passion, that things MUST change. Again, disorienting, but also promising.
The narrative that began on Friday has lurched and lumbered clumsily across the national landscape. It turns out that the mother of the shooter was not a teacher killed in her classroom, but herself a gun owner and outspoken advocate found dead in her home at the hand of her own son using one of her own weapons. Disorienting, and troubling.
Lisa Belkin writes provocatively that gun control is a parenting issue:
We can't just grieve and hold our children close. We have to demand that our country earn the right to call itself a civilized nation. We need to do this because our central job as parents -- maybe our only job, really -- is to keep our children safe so they can grow up. Easy access to guns keeps us from doing that job.It sounds like she is saying that the problem is with me. And with you as well. Disorienting, but I'm afraid she may be right.
We don't know where all this goes. We have a history of having to face events like this, expressing our despair or anger or grief, and then allowing them to slip quietly out of our consciousness.
There is one thing that is different. These were children. Twenty of them, aged six and seven. That is the difference, they say.
My granddaughter turns five tomorrow. Please help us protect her.