Tuesday, December 18, 2012

on newtown

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It feels almost disingenuous to write about this. What do I know of grief like this? What tragic loss, besides the death of grandparents, have I suffered? In so many ways, my anxieties aside, my life has been blessed, idyllic, sheltered.

When I saw the news alert flash on my phone, I didn’t believe it at first. Surely, this was a mistake. They made a mistake. They must have. Not so many. Not children. No. No. No.

But it was so. It was true. Staring at me in black and white on the computer was the first news trickling in of the horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut. Idyllic New England. The kind with a cute white church steeple. The kind that makes you think of Robert Frost. And apples. Where absolutely nothing happens, which is why people move there in the first place. In fact, it looked just like the towns where I went to school: Marblehead and Andover. Picturesque. Quaint. Still. Everyone knows everyone, and consequently everyone knows everyone’s business, but that’s the way the townfolk like it. These are tightly knit communities.

It could’ve been my town. It could’ve easily been Marblehead, or Andover, or our coddled Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill. It could’ve happened next door or across the street. It could’ve been our cousin or our friend or neighbor’s child.

We aren’t parents yet. But we hope to be one day. The night the shooting happened, we were at my parents’ house to mark the end of Hannukah with our families. I was getting ready for bed. All day long I felt strange, as if feeling anything like sorrow was somehow encroaching on Newtown’s grief. The parents who have lost their children. The children who have lost their siblings and friends. The neighbors struggling to help the ones grieving. That by mourning it myself, I was somehow taking their mourning intensity away.

I looked at Andrew. It was the night of the day of the shooting. When darkness descends, that’s when the ghosts come out. “How do these parents go to sleep tonight,” I asked him.

What must it feel like for them?

How do they move on?

How do the other children heal and move on?

How can we protect our country’s children in the future.

It is, without a doubt, a parent’s worst nightmare. Schools are safe, we think. When Andrew and I went to our middle school, a small, private school in tony Marblehead without any security in place, we felt safe. A school is a place where nothing bad can ever happen, save for maybe someone making fun of what you’re wearing or what’s in your lunch box. But that’s as bad as it got. A school, is a place of learning and order. It’s a world contained.

I like to steer clear of politics here. It’s a murky pond, politics. You stick one foot in it, and before you know it, you’re fully immersed, trying your hardest to get out and shake it off. It’s also one of the quickest ways to go from a friendly conversation to losing and alienating people. We’re all steadfast in our beliefs and I try to be respectful of others’ views no matter how much I might disagree with them in private. I’m also no constitutional scholar. Or a lawyer. Or an expert in anything legal. I have a US Constitution app on my iPhone and this is what it says when I pull up the Second Amendment.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

There are three schools of argument on how to interpret the second amendment, the language being a bit unclear and all. But the way that I always read it (and many other scholars) was that the arms in question were for the militia, which we no longer have since we have a standing army, the national guard, the police, and so on. We’re not a state defending itself from a tyrant. And, lest I let my personal opinion slip, I don’t think we, civilians, need guns. Perhaps if I lived in a cabin in the woods, I would think differently, but I live in a city and so my opinion is colored. But suffice it to say, I cannot, for the life of me, comprehend why any civilian might need assault rifles.

I struggle here on how to close this stream of consciousness that has taken me three whole days to write in starts and spurts. A lot of deleting. A lot of holding my head in my hands. Let me close with a selected piece of writing by one of my favorite writers, Thomas Lynch.

Mr. Lynch writes on loss and grief better than any writer I know of. He has some familiarity with it being that he runs a funeral home in Michigan. An undertaker by day and a writer of beautiful prose (and poetry) by night. I once went to a reading of his where all of eight people showed up. His words, his incredible poignancy moves me every time. This is part of what he wrote eulogizing the September 11th victims (full essay is here and is very much, like the rest of Mr. Lynch’s writing, worth reading).

But the bodies of the dead are not “just” anything or “only” anything else. They are precious to the living who have lost them. They are the seeing–hard as it is–that is believing, the certainty against which our senses rail and to which our senses cling. They are the singular, particular sadness that must be subtracted from the tally of sadness. So the cruelty is real, the pain of it unspeakable. It is as if, until they are returned, their deaths belong to their murderers, the media, the demographics or the larger history of the world. But if they are victims of terrorism, casualties of a widespread war, part of a national tragedy, they are no less spouses and parents, daughters and sons, dear to friends, neighbors and fellow workers who are not only missed in the general sense, but missed as surely in the flesh–in beds, at desks and dinner tables, over drinks and talk and intimacies–the one and only face and voice and touch and being that has ceased to be. And their deaths, like their lives, belong to the precious few before they belong to the many who care.

When do the missing become the dead? When do the lost become the lost forever? When does hope give way entirely to grief? When will searching no longer serve the living or the living that have died? How will each family’s lamentation be heard above the nation’s keening? Where is God in all of this? The dead, of course, do not much care. They are predictably indifferent to such details. Perhaps it is the first gift of paradise. The dead don’t care. Only the living do. Whether faith furnishes our heavens, or doubt leaves the decor up for grabs, or wonder keeps the particulars ever changing, Whomever Is in Charge There must take care of them. God is good to them, wherever God is these days. The dead who occupy these places know our hearts, our hurts and how we have searched and watched and waited for them.

We do what we do for the living’s sake. The living must decide when the time has come to cease looking and begin to mourn, to organize the liturgies of thanks and praise and affliction, to shake a fist in God’s face and say the ancient prayers. All the dead require is witness and remembrance–to say they lived, they died, they matter to us.

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10 Comments

  • 1
    Batya said:

    Olga, your writing captured my feelings exactly (and I have studied constitutional law and I am a mother). Thomas Lynch’s words are among the most beautiful I’ve read. I hope you don’t mind that I’ve decided to share them…
    I hope this begins a process of deep soul-searching in this country….and American parents can stop burying their children who have fallen victim to senseless acts of violence. Yours in peace, -Batya

    December 18, 2012 2:14 pm
  • 2
    Renee said:

    Thank you for expressing some thoughts I could not find words to use.

    December 18, 2012 4:52 pm
  • 3
    leeann said:

    Thank you for being brave – and for putting into words something so wrenching. We all need to have this conversation and not be bullied into excepting the status quo. We are all victims here. We can do better

    December 19, 2012 8:28 am
  • 4
    Sheri said:

    You took every thought in my ADD brain and wrote it down so beautifully that I’m going to print this piece out and save it so that I can read it over and over again. Brilliant. Beautiful. Thank you. And may G-d bless all of the families of Newtown.

    December 19, 2012 10:52 am
  • 5

    Olga I couldn’t agree more- the words that normally come easy to me have completely clammed up since Friday; I’ve been avoiding Facebook and Twitter, and the mental processing of such a horrible event is taking me a longer time than I would have expected. It’s just too horrible and shocking.
    thank you for at least writing -something-. Sometimes we might not know what to say, but the little we do speak can help in some way. xx

    December 19, 2012 5:28 pm
  • 6

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    December 20, 2012 1:39 pm
  • 7

    Wow. This is a beautiful post. You hit the nail on the head in terms of how I feel about gun control, but also how to process something of this magnitude when we are not directly affected. It does seep into your conscience and makes us wonder how we move forward as a people, as a nation. Being a parent to a young child, I almost threw up when I read the news. It truly is a worst nightmare. I can’t begin to imagine how these parents must feel. How do you survive this?

    December 20, 2012 1:52 pm
  • 8
    Dana said:

    Excuse me, but from a Down Under perspective, I cannot comprehend why Americans feel they need to possess a gun to protect themselves, from whom? other Americans? Americans in the land of the Free, etc. Would someone pls explain.

    December 21, 2012 8:47 am
  • 9
    olga said:

    Dana – your confusion is shared by many across the world and with good reason. Like i said above, arguing about the 2nd amendment can get murky as there are 3 separate schools of argument. But I am firmly in the camp of guns might have been necessary for militia back then when there was no standing, organized army, etc. In today’s age, this is a moot point. I certainly cannot understand the need for assault rifles. Certainly, our founding fathers didn’t have those things in mind. It’s a heavy mood here in the US, particularly in the tri state area since we’re near the shootings. It’s all we can all talk about. Hopefully, some good change will emerge from this terrible tragedy.

    December 21, 2012 8:59 am
  • 10
    Leonard said:

    .

    Gun-free zone in Germany where only the GOVERNMENT had guns…are we going to allow this to happen here?

    December 23, 2012 1:41 am

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