June 21, 2018
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Deaths that ‘catch the heart off guard and blow it open’

Andrew Gombert | AP
Andrew Gombert | AP
A woman comforts a young girl during a vigil service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown, Conn.

The night before it happened, you may have been driving home and seen the stars in the cold sky come falling down. It was the start of the Geminid meteor showers. People across the country watched with marvel. Now they stand together, in workplaces, living rooms, watching the news updates on their computers and TVs, mourning the fall of those so full of light and life.

At times like this we wrap our arms around those we love. This is when we stop speeding through the night and our busy lives, and take time to care for what is precious. It’s when we remember that everything, even our children, can so swiftly disappear.

We turn to poetry: “You are neither here nor there, / A hurry through which known and strange things pass / As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways / And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.” Seamus Heaney describes driving through County Clare in Ireland. The tension comes from a single moment of transformation during a period of continuous movement. It marks the theme of the journey.

Is there agony worse than what a parent feels upon losing a child? Let’s approach the conversation about the Newtown, Conn., shootings that way, from the human side, a place of compassion. What will prevent such horror — that stops us still in our hurried travels — from happening again? If there’s a solution, by God, what is stopping us?

The deaths of the children and school employees are on all our hands. We elect those who govern our country and set our laws, and we have, apparently, not spoken loudly enough for them to hear: Make our children safer. Examine how we help our mentally ill, how we regulate guns, how we approach domestic violence. Find the holes where monsters slip through.

To our leaders, channel your anger into this cause. Do not delay. It’s already too late. A crime of this magnitude will happen again, for sure, if you do nothing. Call it what it is: One of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. To quibble now, to stand apart, will only add more poison to a deadly day.

In John Steinbeck’s novel “East of Eden,” he writes, “I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one … Humans are caught — in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too — in a net of good and evil. … There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well — or ill?”

Those children were innocent, and the shooter is dead. The question about doing well is left to all of us to answer, before our light, too, fades black.

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