Of the many murmurings of disbelief ("Why would someone do that?" "That's so sad,") from 11-year-old G and 6-year-old R when they heard what happened, the hardest question for me to bear was:
"Why didn't the grown ups do something to protect the kids?"
I couldn't detail the heroic acts, great and small, that happened in Sandy Hook Elementary school on Friday because they, unlike those of the storybook action heroes my kids believe in, were not enough to save all the kids from harm. And although the question may have been a concrete one about that moment and place in time, it rings larger and longer in my ears. Was there something we, as the grown ups, as the ones who can think clearly and control our actions, who can predict something of the future based on the past - was there something more we could have done, that we must do now, to protect all of us going forward?
Calls for gun control, for more services for the mentally ill, for all of us to care for each other and not isolate or ostracize those who need help, are coming forth on social media with more urgency than I can ever remember. The president's words at the vigil in Sandy Hook took on the question of responsibility as a society directly:
"Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?
I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America -- victims whose -- much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.
But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.
In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?" Full text here
So often in the wake of tragedy that happened somewhere else, to someone else, we blame it on one mentally ill person, we thank god our own loved ones are okay, and we move on with our lives. When the president read out the names of the children who died, I felt like I recognized every one:
Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.
I don't know what the answers are. I am thinking about the questions long and hard. I invite you to share your thoughts and links in the days and weeks ahead. We're all in this together.
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