By Brendan Loy
As we all know by now, horror and death visited the United States once more today, some hour and 20 minutes from my front door in a small town called Newtown, CT. There was too much blood spilled and for too little reason, as it almost always the case when blood is spilled. The reality of it is overwhelming, stifling, crushing. And in these moments, inevitably, parents turn to one another and ask, “How do explain this to the kids?”
My wife and I’s daughter just turned 1 year and five months old yesterday so there is nothing to be said to her. Her world remains as it was yesterday, untouched by the unspeakable, perplexing nature of tragedy. But it will not always be that way. Someday, I fear sooner than later, we will be faced by another horror and she will want to know why, what it means, are we safe? I have thought a lot about what I will say as I am sure all of you have. This is what I have. Feel free to take what you need when the time comes and leave the rest.
I will not start gracefully, I can tell you that. I love words and I love speaking them—Lord knows that—but there are moments that I feel so small next to that conjuring even simple sentences seems impossible. So I will stammer and stutter, hem and haw like a near-six feet tall, bald, blue eyed WASP-y Woody Allen at first. Until I do not, until, finally, I push back my own private cloud of despair long enough to reach down through my child’s and take her hand.
I will tell her then that is ok to be scared or angry or confused or sad. I will admit I am scared, angry, confused, and sad all at once. These are natural reactions to moments such as these. It is healthy to feel what we feel. And it is equally healthy when we start to feel happy, funny, or excited again.
I will tell her to beware people with pat answers about why people do wrong. It is never as simple as “video games” or “atheism.”
I will tell her that yes, people with mental illnesses can be violent and yes, Daddy does work with people with mental illnesses everyday. But the violent among them, much like the violent among us, are few and far between. People who do violence may be mentally ill, but mental illness and violence are not one in the same.
Most importantly, I will tell her that, yes, we are capable of such terrible things. There is darkness. And there are moments, moments like this where it feels like all we are capable of is devastation, where that inky blackness feels impermeable. But that feeling, the quicksand of despair and cynicism, that is not reality. That is not truth. That’s our minds playing tricks on us because what else can they do when the blood spilled is so much and so unnecessary.
No, we are capable of so much more, so much better than these moments and the tragedies themselves prove that. As surely as there are villains, there are heroes. They may not wear a cape and cowl or swing around in red jumpsuit and carry a billy club any more than the villains smirk a rictus grin or display a crosshair tattoo. They are heroes just the same.
I will not tell her of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who ran towards, not away, from gunfire and may have activated that PA system allowing so many to survive with her dying act. I will not tell her of the men and women of United Flight 93 who gave their lives preventing terrorists from meeting their goal on September 11th. I will not tell her of the likes of Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn, and Alex Teves who placed themselves between bullets and the women they loved in a movie theatre in Colorado earlier this year. There will be new heroes in the wake of a new tragedy, people who stood and risked their lives for others because that is what people do. I will tell her to look, look at what we can do even when faced with the worst of ourselves.
And if I know my daughter like I think I do, I know she will hear me and while she might not understand how it could have happened—and really who does understand this—she will find some comfort there. She will close her eyes and go to sleep and the next morning things will be just a bit better.
I will go downstairs and weep, like parents do every night in places the world over, be it Newtown, CT or on the other side of the world in China. I will weep for the victims, for lives ended ugly and far too soon. I will weep for monsters who can’t comprehend their monsters, monsters who can but cannot stop, and even those that can stop and choose not to. I will weep for all the horribleness and wonder, the hatred and love, the hideousness and beauty humanity is capable of all at once. And while I’m not one for intercessory prayer, I’m sure I will pray a bit too, though I know not for what. Then I will dry my eyes, hug my wife, call my friends, put one foot in front of the other. Live my life because, in the wake of tragedy, it is what must be done. Produce light so the dark cannot swallow us.