sometimes it’s just there at the front door. doesn’t knock. barges in. makes its way to the kitchen table.
you are sitting there, staring it in the face. wholly uninvited company. but there it is, and you deal with it, have to deal with it. have to try to figure out which parts to tell which children, and which parts to shield them from.
it’s the news, of course. bad news. especially horrible bad news.
like the news that came seeping in through the cracks yesterday. the news that i first heard crackling across the car radio. the news that some mad man had boldly strolled into a german class and started shooting. and then left behind the carnage and kept on shooting.
thirty-three dead by the time he killed himself. maybe more to come if the ones who are suffering don’t make it.
it’s the kind of news that makes the hairs on your arms stand on end. that makes you sit bolt upright in the driver’s seat. you are pulled and pushed away from the tv screen. you feel compelled to know, to understand. but then you recoil. think, oh my God, what if. try to imagine being a college kid in a classroom, when all of the sudden there’s a gun, and it’s exploding. or being a parent who’s sent your kid off to school there, and the hell of waiting, wondering.
you think about the lives forever scarred because they watched a campus turn into hell. they watched bodies bloodied, and others rolling out of windows. you wonder how the kids who stood there will ever again stand in a crowd and not be scared out of their wits. you wonder, when you finally lay your head on your pillow, how many nights it will be before they can sleep. and what the hell kind of dreams will populate their broken dozing when finally they collapse and close their lids.
but then, too, because it is the world it is, you connect the dots straight to home. you no longer play, “that could never happen here.” that game, friends, is over. out of touch. archaic. quaint.
the insanity of this age is that it could always happen anywhere. and so the horrible story we see unfolding on the screen is the story we pray to God we never see with our own eyes.
it’s no joke that the one refrain you can count on is the neighbors all lined up, shaking heads, tsk-tsking: “i never thought that would happen here. this is just a normal place.”
well, i know at my house, for two years, i’ve been hearing stories about a kid at school obsessed with guns. a kid who does militaristic drills at lunch every day. a kid now proudly telling anyone who’ll listen how he is into witchcraft, worshipping the devil. this kid—i’ve heard him—is smart. and he’s a loner. he scares some kids around him. he scares a kid i know who’s smart enough to pay attention, to listen, and to connect the dots to what he sees in the world around him.
last night, when i picked up a car of eighth graders from school, from fiddling on the roof, i made sure the radio was off. i told them, gently, it had been a bad day in the world. i’d let them find out the details at home. one already knew the whole story. another had just moved from blacksburg, virginia, where it all happened, a year ago. she’d lived down the block from the athletic center. they swapped the details of the story; i said little. i mostly listened. then, when the last one was out of the car, i turned to the wide-eyed one i love and i told him what i knew. he swallowed hard.
while i was cooking, i turned the tv on, to see what more they knew. before the little one came in from playing swords, i turned it off. cryptically, the three big ones of us said a few things back and forth. the little one wanted to know what was wrong. he insisted. we told him someone had hurt some people at a college. he wanted to know if they were teenagers, like a teenager he knows. then he picked up a tortellini.
all day, the backdrop to my tingling spine was why in the world do i not react this way when the news is from iraq? why can we be barraged with daily stories of 25 dead, 22 dead, in a marketplace, in parliament, inside, outside the green zone, and we do not much pause? do not find ourselves secreting away to catch a minute’s update on the glowing screen? why do some deaths give us chills, make us lie awake? and others merely fade into the rhythm of the day?
why does loss of one human life break our heart, wrench us out of sleep, and loss of dozens of others barely register a blip?
that we could be so numb is the thing that truly shakes me. that it takes hell outside a war zone to finally make us look, lift our eyes from the kitchen sink, see the carnage that the world has wrought.
your thoughts? how did the news come barreling into your house? did you find yourself groping to tell the children in your life what the hell had happened, once again?