Gone bad wrong
Every time something bad happens, some disaster — a shooting, a storm — that doesn't discriminate in its violence, people tell each other, "Hug your babies tight." The message I get is that we're supposed to feel a renewed gratitude to be able to draw our children close when others can't. And I do, but I also feel uncomfortable with the admonition. I do hug my babies tight — and for all I know, so did Nancy Lanza.
Where we fail most grievously, I think, is not in loving and accepting our own children, but in loving and accepting those beyond our immediate circle, and beyond our tiny radius of comfort. Did others see Nancy Lanza struggling, and did they enfold her and bear her up? Did people in the community try to reach Adam, insofar as he could be reached? Did they — did we — give the family all the practical assistance the system could bring to bear?
I don't know the answers to any of these questions about how hard we worked, how seriously we took our commitment to each other. That we didn't help them enough, though, seems at this point obvious. I don't know if anyone could. I just know we need to try, all of us — keep trying and do better.
Charlie saw the news on the muted TV screen at a restaurant Friday night.
I told him what had happened, although the chyrons on CNN spelled it out pretty boldly. He didn't ask why, which struck me as strange. I explained anyway, saying that most of us understand certain hard and fast limits about how to handle what hurts us, but that when something has gone bad wrong in our mind — "gone bad wrong," oh, how else is there to say it? — we no longer play by those rules.
He nodded, grasping the metaphor. "Then we make up our own," he suggested. "And then it goes really bad wrong."
An eight-year-old has an intuitive understanding of the consequences of unchecked mental illness. Is it safe to say the same about those entrusted to safeguard our public health?
In the wake of the shooting a friend on Facebook posted a picture of herself at age 5. It's a way of sidling up, I guess, to absorb the meaning of an incalculable loss to so many families and friends. To look at our own kindergarteners and ourselves when we were the same age, to imagine what it would be like to get that call one morning, or to consider — oh, it sickens me — the fear they surely felt. To blend the edges of where we end into where those in Newtown begin.
I've seen pictures of some of the victims, and although I could describe them with a handful of appropriate adjectives — glossy-haired baby-toothed pink-cheeked smiling, God, smiling — the only way I really see them is loved, loved, loved.
I also saw a photo of a young Adam Lanza, age undetermined. You know the one: chin ducked down, slight smile, blue polo shirt buttoned all the way up.
I feel like what I'm about to say is dangerously profane. I feel equally strongly, though, that we need to say it and hear it, while we're still blending our edges to try and understand each other: I can't stop thinking that he was once five, once went to kindergarten, once sat through having his hair combed. Once smiled for the camera.
The children of Sandy Hook Elementary were beautiful, as were the people who fought for them, and those who protected them and kept some safe from harm. And so once was Adam Lanza, before someone — we — failed him.
I saw a photo this weekend of an art teacher setting up wooden angels representing the children who were killed.
I know better than to believe that there was one for Adam, or even to think there should be.
But I also know we have to do better by each other. We have to. We have to. We have to.