It has been 4 days since the massacre in Newton, Connecticut. 4 days of uninterrupted media coverage on every station, every network, every channel. It has been 4 days of questions, assumptions, and arguments. 4 days of patchwork reasoning, logic, and scrutiny. The school nurse tells a story about how she was led out of the building, told to keep her eyes closed. One interview with a policeman claimed that every bullet would be investigated, for what I am not certain.
I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like for those families who are laying their babies to rest just days before Christmas. I imagine them mourning together, trudging from one funeral to the next, saying goodbye to their hearts in tiny caskets. I heard the news on Friday when I left a work party, just before I needed to go pick up my own baby and watch her basketball practice. I broke down on the way home, and curled up on my living room floor listening to the radio try and reconstruct some sort of narrative, some sort of line that made sense, if it was possible to make sense of this horrific reality. I hugged my friend when I got to my daughter’s school; her daughter is in the same class as mine, and neither of us could walk into that building alone. I think we were both deeply shaken with gratitude that our babies were safe, dumbfounded by the news reports, and flooded with deep appreciation for our school that is composed of teachers and staff who show up every day and who love our children with their whole hearts, who teach our children to be smart, responsible, and kind individuals, and who profoundly and intensely believe in their full potential. These are teachers who would, without a doubt in my mind, protect our children as their own.
We asked our daughter’s teacher how she planned to address the Connecticut shooting with the class. These kids are only 5 and 6 years old, you see, and we are afraid. We are afraid that they might know evil, we are terrified that hope is lost, unsure of what lies ahead for us, and for our children. And yet these other babies, somebody else’s babies, who are the hearts of their parents living and breathing outside of their bodies, they know and they saw and they lived or they died, they know. And when I think about the funerals, the flowers, the grieving, and those who will have these images forever etched into their minds, I don’t know that I can keep my daughter protected from this sick and broken world. In tragedy, we are still human. We are so many things that are lost to words and language, we are loud sound and sobbing and howling and silence and quaking and our hearts spill through our fingertips into the palms of another hand, a stranger, a friend, a loved one, a body.
I said for the first time, the other night, that I truly felt hopeless. I felt as if this must be it, that nobody is listening, that we have effectively been silenced. Whether it be a debate about gun control, care for mental health needs, religion, abortion, unions, gay marriage…we have effectively been silenced. And I cried, for a long time, and I continue to cry. This is not one solitary issue. This is a mountain built of mistrust, defense, and betrayal on behalf of our government, our country, our neighbors, and ourselves.
I think about Muriel Rukeyser’s poetry of witness, and her commitment to stand in and tell the stories of those who died. I think about her poem, “Song for Dead Children.”
We set great wreaths of brightness on the graves of the passionate
who required tribute of hot July flowers :
for you, O brittle-hearted, we bring offering
remembering how your wrists were thin and your delicate bones
not yet braced for conquering.
The sharp cries of ghost-boys are keen above the meadows,
the little girls continue graceful and wondering;
flickering evening on the lakes recalls those young
heirs whose developing years have sunk to earth
their strength not tested, their praise unsung.
Weave grasses for their childhood: : who will never see
love or disaster or take sides against decay
balancing the choices of maturity;
silent and coffin’d in silence while we pass
loud in defiance of death, the helpless lie.
And yet, we cannot be hopeless, because if we are hopeless than there is no witness. If we are hopeless, we have failed these babies and their families, because they need hope to move forward, one foot after the other, one breath lingering when I’m certain that they want to bury their bodies with their babies because if it were mine, I wouldn’t be able to hold my composure, to hold myself upright, to say goodbye without wanting to throw myself in as well.
So we must find hope. We must find change. Last night on the radio, someone said that it would take a conservative, a Republican, to stand up and say that we have had enough. I don’t believe that this is a time or place for political platforms to prevail, but I do believe that our representatives need to speak up on behalf of their people. The radio show said that our representatives were afraid of losing their support by speaking out against the values of their party; this is what perpetuates the divide, though, and I am sickened by the loss of humanity under the guise of a political agenda which might best be described as individualistic, profit-hungry, and reliant on fear. Where is hope, in a divided nation? Where is hope when, like Robert Frost describes in “The Mending Wall,”
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
He says, “good fences make good neighbors.” But I know that children see no fences. Children do not (should not) fear the world turning against them, they should not know death in this way. I cannot watch that video without sinking to the floor, stunned and in mourning, mourning for the loss of life, for the names, for the empty classroom seats, the toys still out on the floor, the unmade beds and the traces of life still in their homes, their car seats, and their stories. And yet I replay the video anyway, letting the tears fall, and I grieve for what must be a deafening silence reverberating amidst these families, where before, there was song.
Where is hope? I tell my daughter that when we die, we return to the earth. We become, again, the ground, the rich soil, the trees and the flowers. She asks why we bury the dead, why we mark their burial sites with gravestones, and I tell her that I don’t know. To remember, I wonder. She says she’s certain that when we die, we become stars. We become stars in the sky, and we play catch with other stars.
Hallelujah. We named our baby after that album. She is nearly the same age as those who were killed. To the mothers and fathers, the families of the children whose lives were taken from them, to the teachers and staff who met death, and to those who lived who will forever remember the scene, the noise, the walls, and the faces, a devastation too intimate to catalogue with words, we are with you. I hear the media coverage, sharing with the nation the names of the children whose funerals happen each morning. I don’t know how you cope with knowing that your arms have been emptied, and I hold my daughter even tighter. She says, “Mom, I’m really good at wrapping my legs around you.”
You are not alone, Newtown. We stand with you.