Snow brings silence. Snow sighs of peace. Snow promises fun and outside voices, giggles and shrieks of joy, the very next day if it’s not too cold. Yes, the fun of it will be tinged with the absence of those twenty giggles, the smiles of those heroic educators. Someone will reach for a hand that hasn’t been reachable for a year. But the way that hand felt, its stickiness and its hangnails, can never be totally lost.
I weep again with the parents of Sandy Hook. I think of my own young granddaughter, a long day’s drive out of my reach. But I also think of the other children who have been the victims of gun violence in this year and their parents. I think of 27 other school shootings from January 7 to December 13. And I think of the children who know all too well what gunfire sounds like and what to do when you hear it. And the children who were wounded or killed anyway, even though they got down or ran, just because they were sitting too close to their parents, or their uncles, or someone that somebody else mistook for an enemy. I think of the parents whose children were killed in their own homes, by their own guns.
I certainly don’t want to diminish the sorrow of Newtown, but neither do I want to make it more tragic because it happened in Connecticut. I drive past the exits for Newtown, even for Sandy Hook, on Interstate 84 several times each year, traveling across Connecticut to my family. Those names have had new and painful meaning to me in the last year, but I’ve never worried that something bad might happen to me in that neighborhood.
But those other places? Those city places, the poor places, the dirty places? I don’t want to go there, and certainly a large part of it is that I don’t want to feel afraid. They’re different from Newtown in so many ways, but for the last year and forever after, they’ve been the same as Newtown in the most heartbreaking way, except that in those places the heartbreak happens more days than people may be able to name or anyone but the heartbroken remember on the anniversary.
It probably isn’t just the heartbreak of children killed that unites the Newtowns, the Centennials, the Detroits and Chicagos and New Yorks and LAs. It’s the heartbreak and despair that makes someone think they need a gun, handy in the house or tucked into a belt, or boldly slung across the back to prove they are free.
In the cities, it may be that the despair comes from people being packed too tightly, so that nobody has elbow room, their own turf where they can relax and be alone. In the nice towns with green lawns, it’s starting to seem that it comes from isolation – people who don’t have enough other people who see their lives every day, take notice that they’re already slipping out of their humanity. In both kinds of places, humanity may just get to be too painful. Fear steps into its place, insisting on its space, or respect, or just to matter somehow. It’s fear, and the false protection of a gun to use against some threat, that makes a parent keep a gun in the house and forget about the curious three-year-old, or the isolated teenager, who may pick it up. And a gun is always harder to take back. There are no hesitation wounds in a gun death, there’s no chance to call 911 or puke the pills back up when you see the little glimmer of hope. It’s just over, and power turns to loss.
It seemed pretty obvious, a year ago, that the time had come for “sensible gun-control legislation.” But guns do not hold a sensible place in our culture. They hold a place of fear and imagined power. We need to fill that place with something better so we can give up our guns. We need to fill the empty places in ourselves that let fear grow. We need to listen to the children – those killed in Newtown, those killed in the cities and in their parents’ kitchens, and those who don’t yet know the fear. We need to hear their voices of trusting, giggling joy no matter what’s going on. Let them teach us to see the difference between monsters under the bed and monsters defending their turf. Let the children teach us how not to be afraid.