Amid the bitterly partisan political debate on debt reduction in Washington, D.C. came the horrific spree-killing shattering the lives of 20 children in a Connecticut elementary school. American civil society was once again swept away by violence. And it broke my heart.
Immediately, however, the usual crack in the ice of the Second Amendment argument surfaced, reducing opponents to being termed as agents of Lucifer, each side infected with the virus of argument, their messages sufficiently drastic enough to satisfy their base. And if things go as they have gone in the past, the incident will fade from the American consciousness rather quickly.
There will be the usual matters to divert us: raising taxes on the rich, abortion, drugs, railing at the evil empires of North Korea and Iran, our politicians will continue to call the other side of the political aisle “hired thugs,” the NRA will rail against the liberal agenda, hard-lined leaders will speak in slogans. Everyone will talk and nobody will listen.
This time it is different: 20 children forever lost in a matter of minutes.
Grieving parents have been robbed.
Christmas presents will never be opened.
Children forever vanished from Earth.
Hour after hour, across the day and deep into the night, parents will have to explain to a brother or a sister of that slain child why their sibling is no longer here. In the freest country on the planet, 20 innocents will become a mere cipher in the memory of most, but not to them. They will have to bury a child.
And yet … what about those other kids? You know, the ones slain in the streets of Oakland and Chicago and Baltimore and Detroit? Most of American news media have become accustomed to this. Newspaper, magazine and TV editors and their audiences have been powerfully altered by almost six decades of TV drama. The average American household now watches a slaughter or two a day on the tube while munching popcorn or eating a meal. We are indicted for being too soft or too callous, too liberal or too conservative. Yet we have an appetite for entertainment unknown in human history.
The result: American reality is now jammed with the structures of melodrama once only seen on TV. Not analysis, not cool judgment, not the humanizing imagery of high art. Drama. Most of if bad drama. And as it has been since the time of Aristotle, the essence of drama is conflict.
We read of priests who corrupt kids and kids who kill parents; drug warriors, gun nuts, and politicians interested only in getting re-elected for another term. We sneer at any expression of idealism. We sneer at gaffes, mistakes, idiosyncrasies. If this goes on, escalating by the hour, the country is doomed.
I worry because of my grandson. Keeko is now 7. I want him to grow to honor good taste, hard work, and become one of those human beings who cherish human decency. I do not want him to live in a world where it’s Us against Them. We have to stop shouting for a little while and learn again how to listen. It’s time to ostracize those who multiply through division, stop reducing all discourse to the most primitive level.
I cannot imagine how I would react if I were a parent or grandparent who just lost their joy.
Perhaps all I can do is pause, talk less, learn again how to listen, sit down and cry … and pray for a deeper understanding to this world of mine.