*I start this post with the warning – these are some of my thoughts on the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy – if you are sick of reading about it, because words are never enough, I understand.
As I’m sure you have heard, according to the Mayan prophesy, this Friday 21 December is supposed to be the end of the world. For the people of Newtown, Connecticut, the end came a week early.
The tragedy (I’m grasping for another word that hints at the gravity, enormity – apocalypse perhaps) that is unspeakable, if not unbelievable, must surely have marked the end of life as anyone in the town of 26,000 knew it.
For the rest of the world, particularly America, it has given pause between tears of shock and sadness to ponder anew whether it is possible to put an end to such massacres.
It MUST give pause for action.
As the tears continue to flow with the funeral processions of innocents, I find it hard to contemplate the mantra of going with the universal flow, of accepting that loss does eventually turn into gain. What can possibly be gained from such unspeakable loss? It is unspeakable because words can never convey the horror or the sorrow. Words can do little to console, little to change. Words can’t explain it to my nine year old – they choke in my throat. Action is needed. Action is the only thing to be gained.
What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary is not, sadly, unbelievable though. A Wall Street Journal article published sad statistics showing an increase in the number of random mass killings from 18 in the 1980’s to 54 in the 1990’s and 87 last decade (I shudder to think at the total victim count). I’ve read an article in Salon that spoke of a law outlawing some military style assault weapons, enacted in 1994, being allowed to lapse in 2004 because of the political clout of the gun lobby. I cannot fathom why such killing machines are allowed. There may be more to the debate than I can understand, but I could never understand why guns would ever be more important than people.
As an Australian I can’t get inside the psyche of those Americans who believe gun ownership is a fundamental right. I know many Americans cannot fathom how it is a ‘liberty’ that should ever take precedence over the freedom of children.
We were just days into an extended holiday in Europe in 1996 when the Port Arthur massacre left 35 people dead and shocked and galvanised my own country – the system of gun control enacted in its aftermath, in a show of political and community solidarity, has surely saved lives since.
As we were travelling, we were distant from the huge outpouring of grief in the wake of Port Arthur and the change that was so evident when we returned home – something had shifted, for the better. I remember feeling guilty that in enjoying a holiday of a lifetime I hadn’t grieved enough, even as I hadn’t been able to share the solidarity at close range and so offer comfort.
Mental illness, bullying, violent games and videos, drugs, alcohol, media saturation with violence – they are all factors that have been cited before as contributing to mass shootings. Already in this tragedy we have heard reports of a troubled and socially awkward young gunman who isolated himself from a world increasingly connected by technology, but perhaps less connected through community. There have been reports that the gunman’s mother, his first victim, was a doomsdayer (who perhaps believed in the Mayan ‘predictions’ of an end to the world) and confirmation that the awful weapons used by her son were registered to her.
I feel certain we have the means to do more as western societies to help the mentally ill. I fear that in being overloaded with information and graphic images in an internet age we are desensitising to violence. Even as a former journalist, I want to turn off the news, shut out the sorrow.
But any, even many, complicated explanations that can be put forward will never provide an answer. It is looking backward, necessarily, but what is critical is looking forward – changing.
The sad irony for a town named Newtown is that it will somehow have to work out how to recover, how to reinvent itself anew. How it is ever or even possible to work through such mass grief to a place where it is possible for things to be better is hard to fathom. We can only hope that they can unite as a community like never before in the days, months and years ahead. We must unite behind them.
For the rest of us, touched in the distance, shedding tears from afar as we hug our own children close, we have a choice to change too.
Americans have the choice to demand action on gun control, to be part of a solution to make guns far less available than they are currently. Personally I would love to use the word ‘ban’ that that is never going to happen. We have the choice to provide more compassion and support for the mentally ill. We have a choice to turn off TV’s and censor our internet world, to do something about global poverty that contributes to violence in so many countries, and the bullying that stalks our classrooms and cyberspace.
I know I’m not the first to say this – others have said it more eloquently (see Caz Makepeace’s article, even her name carries such promise), others have lived a mantra for peace and loving kindness far more fully than I could hope to do, but I will say it anyway. We need to change within ourselves, to end our internal ‘violence’ when we assault ourselves with harsh judgement and fuel our own fears, to find our peace within, to speak fewer words in anger (that is after all the breeding ground for violence), to short-circuit the negative energy of fear and violence with the positive energy of love and compassion.
This Friday is supposedly the end of the world – just maybe the Mayans were predicting an end to the violent civilisation they had created and which we have perpetuated – if you stoke the fire of violence long enough eventually everything must go up in flames.
Is the blaze of deadly gunfire that struck Sandy Hook Elementary School like a man-made tsunami finally enough to shock us into permanent peaceful change – to end the world (of violence) as we know it?
If only PEACE on earth could be the ultimate end the Mayan’s supposedly predicted – a final death to violence.
It will be Christmas in a week, presuming most of us are still here (sadly hundreds, maybe thousands will have died at others hands in the meantime).
If we cannot be the change in the wake of tragedy, on the eve of Christmas, then maybe ultimate destruction is what we are destined to do to ourselves here on earth.
Peace sounds like a far better alternative.