It was horrible.
In many ways, that is the most important thing, almost the only thing, to say about Sandy Hook.
We’ve seen the newscasts and read the articles, all of which only add to the anguish and anger we feel. With an event as malignant as this, little that is truly constructive can be added to the ongoing conversation, certainly nothing that will bring back those children and those adults.
Still, we as human beings are unique among creatures in our wish to reflect upon and explore tragedy. Wrestling with what’s unfathomable helps us to come to grips with what has been lost. For whatever they might be worth, here are a couple of thoughts related to this recent massacre.
Simply and chiefly, we grieve with those that grieve. Not that I’m alone in this regard, but as a pastor, I’ve sat with scores of people just after they’ve experienced great loss. The older I get, the less I say in those situations. It’s better just to sit there, be with them, and weep with them. (The biblical book of Job gives us an object lesson in “right truth, wrong time.”)
If anything, in tragic situations I affirm to fellow sufferers how bad things are; we can free each other to recognize that terribly hard things really are terribly hard.
And we grieve together, not alone. For all of the miles that separate us from Connecticut, on December 14 we gathered friends and loved ones around us more closely, whether in person or via talking, email, text, or facebook. I believe that in grieving together we discover our better selves.
On a larger scale, although the sense of unity and commonality was all too brief, the aftermath of 9/11 over ten years ago recalled to us that we can and should transcend our differences and disagreements.
(The good folks at Westboro Baptist Church have missed this truth is a crucial way; they’ll be surprised that they themselves will receive the God they’re asking for.)
So, I don’t consider tweets and posts on 12/14 about holding your kids a little tighter and telling your friends you love them as digital ephemera akin to something like the e-emoting about Michael Jackson’s death. Sandy Hook was heavy stuff, and it reminds us that we’re all in this together. We may die alone, but we shouldn’t stare into that abyss apart.
At the same time, we’re also alone on the earth in asking the why and how questions. Ants don’t shake a fist toward the sky when a neighboring colony gets stomped on, but when we lose our own, we do.
For Newtown, we wonder, Why do we allow so many guns in our culture? Was the school lax in its security? On one level, though, I think these how’s and why’s may be a little misguided, even though I can understand their necessity.
To use a trivial analogy that I don’t in any way intend to trivialize Sandy Hook, three years ago I made the mistake of impersonating an athlete in a city basketball league, and I blew out my knee. After the successful installation of my spiffy new ACL—thank you, Mr. Cadaver!—the surgeon gave me some “before” photos from the inside of my damaged joint.
I could clearly see one on one side of the inner knee cavity the severed end of my ligament, and miles away on the opposite knee shore was the other stump of my ex-ACL, with nary a gristly thread between. Those pictures showed me exactly why and how my knee became so badly injured, but what they didn’t do was take away the pain or lessen the grueling months of recovery.
In the same way, if we scour Lanza’s life for clues, identify exactly how the school could have been made safer, or finger the gun control law that was too wide, we would at best gain information (and much of it valuable) but not real understanding or comprehension. Everything would still hurt just as much.
It might be better to view these how’s and why’s as what they may truly be: as laments. How could our world be this way? What kind of an existence is this, where shootings can occur and first-graders one minute are smiling, and then are not? This is unavoidably theological territory.
For more, click through to the Words of Angehr blog.