I woke up today to the sadness I went to sleep with last night. But my sadness is nothing compared to the 20 sets of parents that woke up this morning to empty beds in their children’s rooms and Christmas presents under the tree that will never be opened, and a loss so profound there are no possible words to describe or explain it.
The thing that makes us human and part of community is our empathy and our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others — but putting myself in the shoes of those parents is so heart-destroying, I just can’t do it for more than a few moments. Imagining the loss of a child is something most parents do at various points in their parenting-lives because we have natural fears about safety and about loss. But imagining specifically what a parent faces at the violent and sudden loss of their child is impossible – the pain of the loss of my son is incomprehensible to me.
And yet, in American society, parents face this horrible loss on a daily basis. It is an unfathomable horror to see 20 children under the age of 10 murdered in their classrooms. We can barely process it. We throw around comments like “it was a safe community,” “it was small town America,” “this kind of thing doesn’t happen here.” We can’t get caught up in that perspective though, because so many children across this country are faced with unspeakable gun violence every day. These sudden, horrific events of mass killings shock us into discussion about gun violence, but children in cities like Chicago, Miami, New Orleans and Philadelphia live with it every day. This year, there have been 425 gun homicides in Chicago. FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE. …And of those, 117 victims were under the age of 21. In Florida this year, two young, unarmed black teenage boys were shot and killed by white men who claimed they felt “threatened” by the boys, and because Florida – by law – allows them to feel they have the right to do so. A 9-yr old girl was killed because she attended a gathering with her Congresswoman. Parents in Philadelphia send their children to school every day knowing those children are walking through gun violence that could hurt or kill them. One of my own former students was shot and killed in a drive-by while sitting in his car. The horror of this every day, relentless, onslaught of gun violence in American children’s lives is unacceptable.
No argument for privacy rights, 2nd Amendment rights, or personal safety rights can trump the fact that we have permitted a culture of gun violence to pervade our children’s lives. And some children in this country risk their lives every day because of it. …And some children, who couldn’t even imagine those kinds of neighborhoods, end up murdered in their classrooms. And no argument about how “this could happen even with legal guns, etc.” rises at all to validity in the reality that we are enabling this violence to maintain and expand itself in our children’s lives. We don’t have to repeal the 2nd amendment or stop a hunter from having a rifle in order to stop making it easy for children to die from guns.
In a strange, also horrific mirror event yesterday – the same day of the Connecticut tragedy of 20 children being killed in their school, in China, a mad man attacked children in their school. He slashed 22 young children before he was stopped. There are going to be psychopaths in society, and we can have valid discussions about mental health care in our country, which is unacceptably lacking. There are going to be people not in their right minds who lash out and hurt others. And there are even going to be monsters who attack children. But, as horrible as that attack in China was – unlike here in the US, not one of those 22 children is dead. We don’t have to make it easy for unhinged people to kill. Yet, it’s incredibly easy here in this country.
This tragedy won’t go away anytime soon. And it has long lasting ripples that will hopefully – finally – snap us into action.
I talked with my 10-year old son this morning. He said his teachers had talked with everyone in school yesterday and that some kids had a lot of questions. I asked him if he had any questions about it. He proceeded to rattle off a series of events:
“You know, mom, the shooting at our mall this week, and the shooting at the school yesterday, and the guy who got pushed in front of the train last week… it seems like a lot of people are really mean and don’t care about hurting people.”
I was so sad again that my 10 yr old son was living in a world where he was aware of such violence, all perpetrated in the span of this last week – but we talked about empathy and what it means to care about how other people feel and to not want to hurt others. Yes, there are people in this world who don’t have that and who hurt others, but that is why it is so important to surround ourselves with friends and family and people we care about and who care about us, so we can get the chance to practice caring about others.
We can do better, America.