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?
Dear Bam and friends,What a dark day to which no words seem adequate, yet seem so painfully needed to describe the terror that this event evokes. Prayers to those who have died, their family and friends, and all those so horribly impacted by this tragedy.I feel a profound sadness and even fear evoked by yesterdays events. I feel for those left to grieve. As a mental health professional who has worked with multiple forms of trauma and PTSD I know their journey ahead will be long, may they be blessed with an abundance of support and love. As a mother of 4 young children I ache at the unpredictable nature of this world, the fact that the police were present at my children’s k-5 school today just to be there, and the fact that we are in the day and age where this is viewed as necessary. I take comfort in all that is sacred to me; family, good friends, good health, a sense of faith, and celebrating even the most mundane of moments that pass our way each day; our children’s achievements and innocence, the flowers emerging, a kind friends gesture, among the many. Thank you Bam for a place to ‘talk’ and a place to celebrate the gentle side of life in your daily blogs and web site.Peace to all of you.MH
Even in a local newsroom across the country from the shooting, we were soaking in it. There came a point, beyond the LA riots, the Oklahoma City bombing and Columbine (I covered the first two events, and went on to write about other mass shootings) that I wondered whether I was going soft because the horror of the news began to get to me. Some of that dull residual pain echoed yesterday as I re-arranged assignments, labored through edits and made sure to check in with each reporter in my charge and ask whether s/he was okay. It was good to be able to come here before another day at work. Thanks, Barbie.
Dear BAM –I too first heard the news on the radio and immediately flipped the channel. My daughter keenly feels the world’s pain and even though I hid the morning paper (except the comics) I know children at school will be talking about it and she’ll come home upset. My mantra, whenever awful invades her consciousness, is to remind her that we’re here to protect her from everything, no matter what. I only wish I could be as confident in my ability to shield her as I try to sound.
Barb,I have at least three thoughts about what you wrote:One is that I feel as keenly about the market bombings in Iraq as the rampage on the campus. I was at ground zero of a car bomb in 2000 where I had to evacuate an apartment building in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language with my four kids in the middle of the night. Cars exloded and burned, the street was in flames of spilled gas, building windows blew inward, the sound was deafening. Because it was the middle of the night, no one was killed. But, because of this experience, I have a much deeper reaction to the car bombs in far away places. They are real to me. I cannot imagine how the folks in Iraq can ever recover mentally.My second thought is to ask questions of the university where I work. I am sure there is no centralized clearinghouse for scary student behavior, and it would probably be too illegal and Big Brother-ish to do so, however, I would love if someone high up at VT and other universities had someone to look for patterns of errant behavior. The VT shooter had a fire in his room recently, was barred from stalking certain girls, scared teachers who reported his work and tried to get him to seek help. If there had been someone somewhere to see this guy’s name popping up repeatedly, could something have been done to prevent this, or to prevent something like it in the future? I like to thing that the answer is “Yes”. When I read the excerpt from the NYTimes from the professor who alerted so many of the school’s athorities to the scary behavior–and that she had a security plan worked out with her assistant when she tutored him– I wondered why there was not more help available to her to get help for him or to remove him from the school. (Here is the excerpt: “Lucinda Roy, who taught Mr. Cho in a poetry workshop in the fall of 2005, said that in October of that year he submitted a piece of writing that was so disturbing that she contacted the campus police, counseling services, student affairs and officials in her department. Ms. Roy described the writing as a “veiled threat rather than something explicit.” University officials told her that she could drop Mr. Cho from the class. Or, they said, she could tutor him individually, and she agreed to do so three times from October to December 2005. During those sessions, she said in an interview, he always wore sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled low. “He seemed to be crying behind his sunglasses,” she said. Ms. Roy said she had been so nervous about taking him on as an individual student that she worked out a code with her assistant: if she mentioned the name of a dead professor, her assistant would know it was time to call security.”)Thirdly, as horrible as it sounds, I sometimes like to shrink my world to just what my senses experience in front of me. If I do that, I can for now be happy with the lovely day, with the family and home and friends, with a fiction book, with cooking. My turn will come for tragedy, as it has in the past. But, for now, I want to shut out what is happening so far away.So, you can see there is a lot of conflicted thinking for me with this. Do I identify? Do I try to protect my own campus? Do I ignore? Hmmm…….
i guess i need to say that sometimes when i watch the news from iraq, or hear the news, or read the news, i DO feel just sick. i run through the same litany of questions, throwing myself into the midst of a car bomb, trying to imagine the lives torn, unsuspectingly. honing in, always, on the little threads of a life that are suddenly exploded. i suppose i always seem to find the most meaning in the tiniest, most intimate details. those, often, are the ones that speak most universally to the human soul in all of us. the tugging of a little girl on her mama’s sleeve, when her mama is no longer. the cry of the baby that goes unheard. the shopping list blown to bits, shreds falling like sinister confetti on the littered street–or what used to be a street. but, too often, i notice myself hearing hollow numbers, letting them slip and slide right through my brain, unconsidered. i know that if i injected my heart into every heartache of the world i would hear the sound of my own heart exploding. my eyes, thank God, have never absorbed in real time true violence, none of the sort that makes the 10 o’clock news. i have seen heartbreak, plenty, but never watched a body jerked in violent death. if it’s true that God gives us what we can handle, then perhaps that’s why. i don’t know how i or anyone puts back together the shattered shards of a soul after seeing, or hearing, first hand, something so filled with horror. i found some solace yesterday in hearing a psychologist say that it was her job to help the survivors tap into their innate strengths to carry on. that she has seen, over and over again, the incredible capacity of the human spirit to be healed–if always scarred–and move on to breathe and love and feel the breeze again. for that i pray for all of them…..
Uninvited news…..I have more than my share in my 50 some years….a nephew dying of a drug overdose, my dearest friend’s magnificent son dying of leukemia at 21, another dear friend’s daughter missing for two weeks and found murdered by an escaped convict – randomly carjacked in a grocery store parking lot, a wonderful neighbor’s husband and mother murdered by a mentally ill man convinced the wife was responsible for his suffering……and then there is always 9/11. Yet we have all kept growing and going….absorbed somehow the pain, violence, and utter senselessness of the deaths. I am changed, worn down, mostly more vulnerable and human. I know people are struggling with the actions of the university security and police ~ we have too much hindsight and distance to really judge ~ I can’t imagine that any of us would have had the mindset or the imagination to anticipate what unfolded that morning and I would not want to live in a world with where most people would have anticipated the possibility of such carnage. My children are of the age of these college students……they have no words and I have no words for them…just hugs and unending love from their worn down vulnerable mother.
I did not hear this news while working my typically full day in the hospital. Not sure why it took me until the evening when I had returned home and turned on the news to learn what others struggled to deal with throughout the day. At this late hour in the day, I heard the sadness, accusations (against the university and their security), and initial details about the gifts the individuals who had life taken from them had already brought into the world. I did not know any of them, did not know anything about this university , this community. My immediate thoughts went to their families, friends – I want to learn more about them as if to know them would allow me to make sense of it. That is what is hard about those who’s lives are lost in senseless events (“carnage”) elsewhere in this global world. We hear deaths reported in numbers and locations but we do not learn who was left behind, what promise of a future will never happen now. Just numbers and locations. Yet, they are so much more – deserve so much more. Meanwhile, I feel gratitude for each day -when all in my sphere are well and alive . Deep gratitude and an awareness that it is never a guarantee.
Two things I take away from last week. We must care for one another–everyone around us–our “neighbor” in the wide sense of the parable of the good samaritan, which even extends to our enemies–with seeking searching compassionate eyes. We must pray for peace.These two things are tiny, miniscule, the least we can do, the most we can do. It is unlikely we will ever see the results of these two efforts. But sometimes–sometimes–the impact of these things is vast, as far-reaching and powerful as a mushroom cloud, or maybe even more so.
Trying last week to move out of the sadness at the world — the shootings, the floods, leaders of questionable ethics, the war, the fact that we need to have an Earth Day — the list goes on and on…One thought that gives me hope is the response of college students to violence. The Rutgers women, in the face of verbal violence, simply stated their truth and expected, in good faith, to be heard. The V Tech students, in the face of physical violence, came together in community. How often did we hear “Together is the only way we’ll get through this,” or “I want to stay on campus and help people deal with this.”My hope is that we all can learn someday to counter violence with such truth, such compassion as these young people have shown. In their hands, maybe the world is going to be okay afterall.