Each time I think about writing anything which addresses the tragedy in Newtown, I find myself at a loss. When I first heard about it Friday morning, my mind immediately went into a protective mode. I have two kids. I couldn’t bring myself to imagine the scenario. When I told my son about it at dinner the next night, tears stung my eyes.
Over the next five days, I quietly scanned the news, the op-eds, the posts on Facebook and the articles in the blogosphere. A lot of good people seem to be trying to come up with ways that we can prevent something like this from happening again. After this time to absorb things, I figured I ought to give it a try.
Among the various responses I’ve been observing, someone mentioned Gandhi. When Gandhi was a school teacher, one of his students was bullied and beaten up. Gandhi then went into a deep meditation on how he may have been responsible for the situation. This has struck me more than anything else.
Thinkers like Gandhi seemed to have an advanced understanding of what emotional reactions are all about. Rather than rush off to figure out how to stop bullies in his school, or to retaliate, Gandhi’s response was to stop and sit and meditate and search his soul for his own culpability.
I admit, it’s challenging to think of this as a legitimate response. I live in an action-oriented society. My heroes are action heroes. I don’t watch movies about people who go and meditate after a crisis. (Unless I’m watching the biopic, “Gandhi,” starring Ben Kingsley.) I watch movies where the heroes beat the crap out of the bad guys.
In my own life, if someone were to try to do harm to me or my family, I would probably try to beat the crap out of them. (Or, who knows, I might do what Louis C.K. does in the episode where he and his daughters are accosted on the street – throw something through a window and attract the police – that was both smart and funny.) But with the Newtown shooting, while it is “my life” in a larger way, it’s different.
What I can do about Newtown tragedy is something within the scope of my personal life. I can consider my own responsibility for this unbelievable tragedy. I can be a considerate and responsible parent to my two children. I can talk to my eight year-old about what happened, and answer any questions he may have. I can continue to limit the “entertainment” in his life to the most non-violent movies and kids shows. I can balance any fantasy he indulges in by consistently re-introducing him to the natural world.
It is my humble belief that we are losing ourselves to fantasy. We are going ever inward – inward to our phones, computers, and brains. I am guilty of it, too. I spend too much time watching shows like The Walking Dead or, sitting around writing made-up stories and not enough time giving back to the people around me. This doesn’t mean I “blame TV” for what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. But I do feel my culture is more immersed than ever in “second-life” video games, war games, the occult and all the rest.
The thing is, we have too much of everything. Some people talk about the U.S. as a repressed culture. I don’t see that. I see every kind of gore, fantasy, pornography, and perversion. There is nothing left which is taboo, nothing which is hidden from the eyes of our youth. Granted, fantasy like Lord of the Rings or Warcraft has its good guys and its bad guys, but I wonder if some people can tell the difference.
These killers of late, they are all in their early twenties. My gut tells me that they are people disconnected from reality, but that’s just an instinctive guess. Diagnosing them would be dubious at best. Maybe there is bipolarity, maybe there is antisocial personality disorder. Maybe they are cold and calculating and have their wits about them as they meticulously plan out their heinous crimes. Maybe they are narcissists who think the media will turn them into superstars.
I am responsible for them. I live in a society which pits stardom and fame above all else. Where people rush the counters and maul one another to get the latest shiny toy craze on Black Friday. Where zeitgeists like Harry Potter and Call of Duty absorb people like a cultish craze. I have an iPhone made by people who make diddly-squat and live in conditions so deplorable that suicide is endemic to their lives. I drive around in a car that guzzles fossil fuel. I am selfish and self-indulgent, even on my best days when I am trying to be a nice guy and a good father.
We don’t like to look at these things, though. We would rather talk about mental health care because we, the ones talking, aren’t in the throes of a mental health crisis. (Or if we are, we are getting the care we need.) We would like to announce our very noble position on gun control – assault rifles weren’t what the Constitution’s authors were saying, we like to point out. And they weren’t. You could throw all guns away and I could care less. But I don’t think doubling mental health care dollars or stricter gun regulation or security-patrolled elementary schools would make any difference – if anything they would require more legislation and enforcement adding to our already complex society.
The issue behind Newtown is so deeply enmeshed in us and so protean that it’s hard to really see. A religious person might call it “evil.” Let’s just call it “it.”
The Newtown tragedy is another one of its expressions, or manifestations. We see it revealed in the vicious and vehement partisanship of the recent election. We see it in the debate surrounding global warming and climate change. It is a part of the storms tearing us apart; atmospheric, polemic, and spiritual. It is watching us as we are divided and conquered.
We have a tragedy like Newtown, and the global community switchboard lights up. People point fingers and push their agenda. I am guilty of this, too. Here I am using this opportunity to advance my opinion.
But that’s what this is, really. An opportunity. To risk being cliché, it’s an opportunity to “be the change” I wish to see in the world. It’s not time to say “We need the Bible in school” any more than it’s the time to get all up in arms about the dude who says “We need the Bible in school.” Whether I’m pro-gun control or all for amped up mental health care doesn’t matter. Whether I’m old-fashioned or new-aged, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter one bit to the children who were killed in Newtown.
The way I choose to honor those children is in how I live my life. I need to meditate each day about the tragedy in Newtown, and consider my own responsibility. I need to renew my beliefs. I need to reinvigorate my own personal campaigns; eat better, grow my own food, invest in sustainable energy, refrain from excess consumption, monitor my children’s habits, and stay in touch with them – stay in touch with them, stay in touch with them.
It sounds corny, I know. But if all we do is continue bickering about who’s right and who’s wrong and how to “solve” this, history is just going to keep repeating.
My response to Newtown is to take a fresh look within. To ask myself how I can be someone who, by example, by the deeds of the action-hero I like to think I am in my own personal life, can participate in the creation of a better world.