Parents across the land and around the world hugged their young children a little tighter, a little longer this week, following last Friday’s unspeakable shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Strangers comforted each other. America came together, if only for a long weekend. Why is it that too often it takes a tragedy to remind us of the most important things in life?
After Hurricane Sandy, we came to realize that basic necessities like electricity, heat and running water, not to mention the security of our homes, should never be taken for granted. And after the cold-blooded massacre of 20 first-graders and six school officials in a one-story elementary school, we are reminded that every moment shared with a friend or loved one is a gift, with the potential to be precious.
Perhaps we are not wired to hold onto these emotions for very long, but we can take some degree of comfort in knowing we are capable of such feelings, however fleeting.
Soon the scenes of the funerals and the heartbreaking words of the eulogies will have passed. The names of the children will be forgotten. Even the happy and hopeful faces brimming with life will fade from our memories. We will return to the debates over whether we can legislate the sane usage of arms, whether our mental health system can be improved to the point of keeping unstable people away from high-powered guns. Surely this country can improve its safety by requiring criminal background checks for anyone seeking to buy a gun, and pass laws banning the use of high-powered assault weapons to ordinary citizens. But there is more to creating a safe society than politics and policies. Ours is a culture that glorifies violence, has grown to accept obscenities and pornography as normative in our discourse and entertainment. We seem to be losing faith in our own goodness.
Why is it that countries like Canada have relatively few violent crimes? How is that Israel, with so many citizen-soldiers having guns, has so few shooting deaths?
There are no simple steps to change a society, to supplant cynicism with sincerity, to recognize the importance of the collective over the wants of the individual. But we have to be willing to recognize the problems and want to address them. We need to think of the lives lost, the futures unfulfilled, the faces of the smiling children — those no longer here and those looking to us for love and protection — and do right by them.
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