When I started writing this column on December 14, I was going to do something on Christmas… something feel-good and funny to start the holidays off with. And then I checked the news.
At the time when I wrote this, 27 people were suspected dead in the latest American school shooting, and 18 of the victims were reported to be children. They were just six and seven years old, and they were shot multiple times. As it turns out, the death toll climbed to 28, including 20 children, the shooter’s mother, and staff who worked at the school. The shooter was a 20-year-old male who forced his way into the Connecticut elementary school and allegedly more than 100 shots were fired from at least three rifles. He was found dead in the school. The details continue to emerge, and an all-too familiar feeling of reflexive horror has settled into my core.
When I was first working in the radio news business, I had to help cover the Columbine school shooting tragedy. Even seasoned newsroom veterans were stunned, and some were crying. We watched as shocked students surrounded the school, waiting for news of their friends, collapsing in one another’s arms. We saw as panicked parents arrived on the scene, frantically scanning the crowd of students for their children, weeping when they found them, and weeping when they didn’t.
There was no victory that day. There was no joy. There was only some guilt-stricken relief, and devastating tragedy and utter loss.
I was assigned to find the relative of a dead student. robotically, I made the calls that night and eventually, I found a grieving aunt willing to go on the air the next morning. I felt sick, and I never did listen to the interview.
There have been more mass shootings since then – too many to recall one by one by memory.
Think about that for one second… There have been so many mass shootings in the U.S. in the last 15 years that even a news reporter can only remember them as one big blur.
After the nation mourns, the debate will begin again with renewed vigour. We’ll hear about violent video games. We’ll reignite the fear of violent video games. We’ll talk about bullying, broken homes and a lack of religion. The bitter diatribe about gun control will intensify and people will take sides against one another with such resolution that friendships will be lost over it.
I don’t know what’s wrong with America, but I know it’s not as simple as their great media orators would have us believe. Mass shootings are as related to gun control as war is related to camouflage. Our species has always played violent games, and God knows we’ve always excelled at treating one another poorly. But something – I don’t know what it is – but something culturally has changed since Columbine. It’s like a vast emptiness is spreading in America and it’s consuming everything they hold the dearest – their children.
Most of us would hand over our own lives in exchange for the life of a child – even one we never met. Sometimes, even the most average human beings among us are capable of being so cruel to one another. We hurt our spouses, we argue with our siblings, we say things regret and we do things we can’t take back.
But we also love, and we reach out, and we help, and we’re kind. Most of us want to leave the world a better place, and probably, most of us do.
You don’t have to be a mother to imagine what all those little broken, bleeding bodies looked like so still on that school room floor, dying without the warmth of a mother’s arms. You don’t have to be a police officer to feel the rage, the hopelessness and the soul-eating blackness an incident like this creates. You don’t have to be a father to imagine the crippling grief and despair that will only be ended when his own life does.
All you have to be is human. And that’s what seems to be disappearing.