By now, the whole world has heard of the horrific school shooting that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut. If you have not, you may read the details here, or you may simply Google it. The details of the event are fairly basic at this point, but it looks like 20-year-old Adam Lanza of Hoboken, NJ, traveled to his parents’ house in Connecticut, killed his father, then traveled to the elementary school where his mother worked. Lanza entered with two firearms, killed the principal, went to his mother’s classroom where she taught, and he proceeded to shoot her and her entire kindergarten class. At the time of this writing, 27 people, including 18 children, are dead. Lanza killed himself in the shooting. I may have some of these details wrong. (Indeed, this proved true, and the identity of the shooter has since been corrected. – Ed.) At this very moment, there is still not a full or entirely accurate public account of what has happened. Just that it was awful.
When you live as much of your life on the Internet as I do, you can see how a wrenching moment like this can show just how much of a community your online friendships can be. Mine is pretty tight, and a lot of my friends decided now was the time to begin an animated discussion on gun control. My answer to that was right now, all I care about is how hard I’m going to hug my kids when I get home. And you know why? Because today, THEY CAME HOME. Everything else — EVERYTHING — pales before that. Everything else can be discussed later when we’re a little less freaked out. We will have plenty to discuss, debate and argue over, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea if everybody just gave it a day, so when they do decide to begin talking about Newtown, they can do it with clarity and insight rather than emotion.
I train in martial arts. A lot. And one of the things it’s given me is a much greater sense of situational awareness. I walk around scanning for details. I am more highly attuned to the people around me. Once, a brawl erupted in front of me on the streets of Hoboken, and I did not even flinch; I could tell what was about to happen before it did, and when the people started fighting, I could see that none of them were even heading my way. Folks ran for cover because they could not tell if they were safe or not. I could tell. And that is why I did not move.
This afternoon, I went for some lunch, and I was two or three times more alert. Jangled, even. Looking for trouble where there were none. It was because of all of the news I had read about Newtown, of course. A story like this — especially if you have young kids in school, as I do — hits you like a hard punch to the stomach. If you looked at Newtown as a robot might, you might be tempted to think, what are 27 people among a nation of 350 million? Of course, it does not feel like that. It feels like we have all been pulled into it. Personally, I think it’s because so many of the victims were kids at school. This feels different than, say, the mass shooting earlier this year in Aurora, CO, because those people all chose to be at that movie theatre. The children of Newtown were placed there. They had no choice to be anywhere other than a place where evil would happen. Nobody knew this beforehand, of course. But somehow, there is this thin sense of culpability that does not go away easily.
This also hits us so hard because we don’t have any real situational awareness for the random act of mass violence. Ours is a society that simply does not train us for it. We don’t think to look for it. We are not able to see it happen before it happens. We just see the aftermath and wonder why, inevitably providing our own reasons. But the fact that we live unprepared for tragedies of this sort is a sign that we live in a civilized society. I would not want to live in a society where we were on the constant lookout for such deeply aberrant and violent behavior. But the tradeoff is when these things happen — and they do happen; since Columbine there have been 41 school shootings in this country — they hurt that much more.
They hurt because life is precious. Life is special. Life is worth protecting personally, physically, emotionally, and to the point of this article and this audience, financially. Eternal is the struggle to accept that our life and the lives of those we hold dear are more fragile by far than we think they are. Eternal is the struggle to understand why, in a world as beautiful as this, filled with so many beautiful people, there are monsters that seem to exist purely to destroy. Eternal is the struggle to protect what needs protecting, whether we do it for ourselves or for each other, whether we are appreciated or not for it. Whether anybody thinks that it matters.
It matters. It all matters. And what you all who are reading this article, what you do matters, too. A day like this one makes that all the more clear. And when the pain subsides and we all fully return to doing what we do, after Newtown, there are those professionals who will pursue their duties with a heightened sense of purpose. A deeper sense of situational awareness. That is a good thing. Amid such a deep and impossibly dark badness, there is still some good. There is always, always, always some good.
And that, my friends, is worth remembering. Be well.