Jumbled.

by Alexa on December 18, 2012

I wrote this last night and didn’t post it. It seems impossible to write about the events in Newtown without offending someone, whether through misunderstanding or otherwise, and I hate offending people. And if it seems impossible in general, it is certainly impossible in the specific instance of an unedited, stream-of-consciousness-type Internet meandering. However I am trying to worry less about being liked (and succeeding, which is a whole other topic for another day), and if this isn’t the place to write about what is preoccupying my thoughts, I don’t know what is.

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I have nothing new or useful to say about what happened in Connecticut last Friday, but I also can’t say nothing about it at all (SURE YOU CAN, I hear you remarking, wit that you are).
I have never reacted so strongly to a tragedy that was not, after all, not really, my own. After hearing the news I had a full-scale panic attack, and was largely unable to cope for some time as a result—having, in my infinite wisdom, allowed my anti-anxiety prescription to lapse sometime over the summer. I cried, I clutched at my throat with clammy, shaking hands, I was physically sick to my stomach. And I was rather disgusted with myself over the whole episode, because it felt a trifle self-indulgent, falling so thoroughly to useless pieces over someone else’s horror, so undone by it that I banned myself, for a while (on doctor’s orders!) from reading the coverage—how nice that you have that luxury, said a dry voice from somewhere between my ears.

This voice had a field day all weekend, remarking upon the toothlessness of my fury and the self-centered way in which the tragedies that affect us most viscerally are the ones in which we can most easily imagine ourselves starring. It is understandable that I find the mass murder of first-graders (my god, how is that a phrase that exists?) even more upsetting now than I would have before I became a parent, but the fact that I am the parent of similarly aged children doesn’t make it any more horrible that those 20 children in Newtown died. Why does it feel so much worse?
Maybe it is only because I am better able to imagine and feel empathy for the pain of those parents. Simone will be five in just over a month; I understand what a six-year-old is like, in an immediate way that makes it easier to construct a picture of what those children must have been like, what their families’ daily realities were made of. I can see the shape of that horrible absence more clearly than I might have been able to a decade ago, can more clearly imagine the behavior and reactions and reality of a six or seven year old during that awful morning.
Maybe, though, the fact that it feels worse suggests that my reaction is not as pure and compassionate and other-directed as I’d like to think. Maybe some of my tears were for our family, not theirs. Because isn’t there some small part of the reaction we have as parents, that gut-felt horror, that says it could have been us, and weeps for that possibility? Isn’t that part of the ease of imagining yourself in the shoes of the grieving—imagining yourselves in the shoes of the grieving?
Then there is the…well, let’s call it The Hug-Your-Kids Corollary, the thoughts that pop up about how From Now On, I Will Be More Present, and I Must Never Forget How Lucky I Am For Every Moment, and so on and so forth. There is something undeniably queasy-making about the moment that reduced one person’s life to smoking rubble being another person’s catalyst for self-reflection. At the same time, it is human and natural that an event like this would make us reevaluate and reaffirm, would make us feel grateful for what we have, even if there is an inevitable, uncomfortable undercurrent of thankful-it-wasn’t-us-ness to that gratitude. We DO hug our children a bit tighter after a reminder of the parents who never will again, how could we not? But still, it pricks at me. Are we honoring the lives of the children who died, are we remembering them, or are we making it about us? Could it be any other way? I find it revolting when the people talking about gratitude are doing so at a profit (“In Wake of Tragedy We Deplore, 10 Ways to Live More Mindfully,” via paid-per-click slideshow), but even the justification for that revulsion seems slippery when examined more closely, the line between what is exploiting a tragedy and what is journalism less clear than I would like. What do I want them to cover instead? Not talking about it feels wrong. Talking about it feels wrong, too.

It bothers me, and bothered me, all of this, and then it bothered me that I was self-centered enough to spend time examining my own reaction for self-centeredness when I could have been using that time to write to my elected representatives about gun control, or doing something else (what?) with a veneer of the productive. Historically, I have spent far too much time feeling bad about things, and not nearly enough time taking meaningful action. Feeling bad helps no one and solves nothing, and while sometimes there is nothing we can do to make a thing better, more often, I suspect, there is. It may not be—almost certainly is not—enough, but it has to be more useful than one’s own private woe. Thoughts are not magic. Even sending a card is at least a tangible action. So is lobbying for change, or donating time or money. Weeping? Nope.

This is what my head is full of. It is a stew of grief and fear and self-recrimination and oh, my god, those poor children and their families.

It should be quite obvious that I have no wisdom or comfort to offer, but I needed to write it out, stew and all. Usually, doing so brings me a measure of clarity. Not this time.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa December 19, 2012 at 4:25 am

Jumbled though that was, I think it reflected what a lot of us are feeling- I know it did for me at least. My daughter is 6 1/2 and is the funniest, cheeriest, most est est est person I’ve ever known, and I can’t help but think how much my world would dim without her. Add on that I’m from ND but now live in the UK, so I’m surrounded by people crowing about stupid Americans and their lust for guns (hello, I’m standing right here) so I feel defensive and gutted and then stupid because it ISN’T my tragedy and it all spirals. And all I can do is hug her and swallow my panic.

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Fran December 19, 2012 at 7:04 am

“Historically, I have spent far too much time feeling bad about things, and not nearly enough time taking meaningful action”.

Spot-on. Me too. But, not now, not anymore.

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celia December 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

I know I am doing everything I can. I am raising our children to be compassionate, kind, and to know that bad behavior equals negative consequences. I am shielding them from media, from tv, from violence and violent toys. I feel jumbled myself. Everyone posting ineffective pictures of candles and rending their clothes over a tragedy that while might have been unavoidable but could certainly have had a lower body count if only we lived in a country that was not awash in gun love. All I keep thinking is “money talks and bullshit walks” stop selling and buying guns or accept that this is part of the price.

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a December 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

I think part of it is that we feel so ineffectual. We have such sorrow for the families, and have no tangible way to help them through. We are so angry at the system that tries to force people with unusual personalities into the mainstream, without offering them help or guidance, so they have nothing left to do but snap. We’re angry at our culture for glorifying gun ownership – I don’t care if people own guns, but for God’s sake, don’t pretend that unprotected guns didn’t add to this tragedy. But what can we DO about any of this?

Before the news of the shooting came out, I was reading something on Reddit from a survivor of Columbine. And what struck me was a comment from a guy with a daughter in school. The daughter came home and told a story about some kid at school who said something…off. Vaguely threatening, normally blown off because kids don’t really mean that sort of thing, but the dad was struck by the story. So he called the principal of the school. And the school took it seriously, and intervened. I don’t remember the entire outcome (I think the kid was entered into some sort of mental health program), but what I got from it is that we should be listening. We should be hearing what people say. We should be paying attention to those around us who might otherwise be minimalized. And maybe that’s the way to avert these sorts of tragedies.

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Sara December 19, 2012 at 9:05 am

I have been reading your blog for a long time, and read many other blogs. I am not usually a person who comments. This is a perfect, honest and beautifully written response to what happened. I wish I could be so eloquent in my own writing. I have a 4 year old daughter, and your post conveyed everything I have been thinking and feeling. Thank you.

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jana December 19, 2012 at 9:11 am

My daughter, Charlotte, is in first grade. I had many of the same reactions as you, but the dominant emotion I felt, along with empathetic grief, was anger–at people I know who are as completely separate from this tragedy at I am, for a variety of stupid reasons. Yesterday I decided to give my anger teeth, and I contacted the Brady Campaign to volunteer to help start a chapter in my city (apparently there are none in the state of Kansas at all). I hope that tangible action helps my anger not reside but at least feel more productive.

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carolyn December 19, 2012 at 9:21 am

Thank you for writing this. You said I what I tried to say much more elegant and eloquently than I.

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Deborah December 19, 2012 at 11:00 am

It may feel jumbled to you, but your thoughts in this post are spot on. I’ve read many responses to this horrible shooting that I just don’t agree with, from bloggers I normally adore. This one, I totally agree.

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courtney December 19, 2012 at 11:53 am

honestly, this is one of the best things I’ve read in the aftermath of the Newtown incident.

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KeraLinnea December 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

This is perfect. It’s so hard to talk about, to write about, and it’s so easy to make it about you and yours, just because it’s so hard to turn off that parenting worry/imagination, and so easy to think “what if it had been us? What if it IS us, next time?” See, I’m stumbling over this…you did good. Thanks for posting this.

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nikwalk December 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm

This is beautifully put. I like this particularly. “There is something undeniably queasy-making about the moment that reduced one person’s life to smoking rubble being another person’s catalyst for self-reflection.” I do think it’s a lack of a clear path to action that makes us circle about. Writing about it. That’s doing something. I also like the idea of donating time, money, writing notes to congress people. This is all good.

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Mia B December 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Your post compelled me to write my congressmen. A tangible thing to do is tell our leaders what we want. If you want to find yours, http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

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Autumn Canter December 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

When my brother died I spoke at his funeral. The main points of what I said is that grief can either break us (make us less than we were) or it can make us a better person. I hoped everyone would choose the latter. Though you and I were not directly effected by the deaths of those children and educators, we still have a type of grieving process to go through. The first is to weep and curse and ask why. To relate it to what we have and what it would feel like to us is natural. It is how we try to wrap our minds around what those parents and other loved ones are going through. It’s empathy. Feeling grateful is also natural. I’m sure those parents want us to treasure our children. By treasuring our children, aren’t we honoring those that have passed? That is how I like to see my brother’s death. As a catalysis for change within me. That change rippling out to others. When we live with gratitude and awe, we are overall, happier people. That happiness spreads to those around us. I would bring my brother back in an instant if I could. I would take control of his car. If I could, I would unmake the deaths of those children. So we grieve because we are powerless and life can be horrid. Then, the next step, is to change. It can just be a change within, but you can do more (gun control etc). It warms my heart every time I see someone treasure their brother. I am not resentful, though I am sad. I am also very very happy that people still have a sibling to love with them. :) Nothing in your writing was offensive. It was more of an echo. Thanks for sharing!

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KDA December 20, 2012 at 8:14 am

You have put into words my feelings and reaction.

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Angella December 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm

Oh, Alexa. Don’t ever apologize about how you feel about anything. You cannot help how you feel. Feel it, process it, deal with it.

There is no deadline for taking action. There is no deadline.

Work through all that you’ve been hit with, emotionally. When you’re ready and able, that is the time to take action.

xo

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Erin December 21, 2012 at 12:21 pm

This is perfectly stated.thank you.

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Katie January 3, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Alexa, I came to your blog tonight so your words on this topic could put a name to my feelings and give comfort. I wanted to bear witness to your grief because, to me, you do have a connection and–unlike me–you have a “right” to mourn those twenty babies and grieve with their families. Not especially, but perhaps most empathetically, the little boy whose twin sister lived and whose family has to pick up the shattered remains and forge ahead for their daughter who survived. I sob for them and for you all over again. Xo

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