It will be hard not to sound unsympathetic with this, but I think I have sorrow covered. A piece of the sun has forever gone out of the sky for some families in Connecticut. However well they may get on with their lives, they will never fully get past the tragedy. They will have pain forever. Intermittently perhaps, because the brain itself cannot sustain any emotion indefinitely. But the abyss will always be nearby. I know some who had such tragedy years, even decades ago, who still have pain from it. I had an aunt who lost her first child to SIDS over Christmas in 1951, and her husband on Christmas in 1981. The president did not come speak to her.
Yet in fact, there are lots of them. As with a plane crash, we see this event as some superspecial tragedy because it involves many people. But this is not a greater tragedy because it has a 27 in front of it. It is 27 individual terrible tragedies, much like the many individual tragedies that happen every day, one at a time. The dramatic events make a better story, so we remember them better. We sort of (gulp) like these tragedies, because then we can apply our favorite explanations to them, confirming our world view. Like, or enjoy are not quite the right words – but something like that. We are excited by such things.
I see this all the time. I know a few dozen young men who describe like this one. I met a new one today. I know a few dozen mothers who lost schoolchildren. This happens in miniature every day, but the national imagination is not captured, so we cross the street and pass by. I am not impressed by our national outpourings of emotion. We are having real feelings, but we are having real feelings about something else. These events activate other stuff. Which is why people leap to conclusions and want to inject their political views about guns or their social views about mental health. Or school security. Or school prayer.
When the events fit some American narrative, I suppose there is a reason for the country to get exercised. If the victims were chosen for their race or their beliefs, then something central to American definition is at stake. But random violence is just the evil that has been with us since the dawn of time, the natural overflow of a fallen race.
Hey, I’d love it if you sent us more money over here at public mental health. But how many false positives are you going to lock up, or follow around all the time? Ten times the number, with ten times the cost, and ten times the loss of freedom?
Worried about the guns? It’s already illegal. Please, worry about the mentally ill with driver’s licenses instead, because there’s more death there. They are among our most vulnerable citizens and often live in our worst neighborhoods, but we take away their ability to protect themselves with firearms because of the increased risk. That may be the correct calculation, but there is a cost to them. So too with the greater danger, driving. Or over-the-counter medication. Or alcohol. We could tighten up on all those things, too, if you like. After all, prohibition worked so well last time, why not try it on guns and aspirin, too?
You want bad things to stop happening, and the way you think they will stop happening is if people will only listen to what you have been saying for years. I mean, it’s just obvious, right? It’s good for lumbago and sciatica, apoplexy and epilepsy, tired blood and the diminution of the marital impulse.
I should not be so harsh. We are primitive creatures, huddled together against the night, and if we act like the rabbits listening to Captain Holly on Watership Down, it may just be the only way we can get through. We may need periodic horror to identify with, to express loudly what we call senseless tragedy, as an expression of who we are and what is important to us.