Published in The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in the on-line edition on January 8, 2013 and in the print edition on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. A link to the on-line essay is provided at the end of the text.
The horror of Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., left us to imagine scenes inside the school that first responders witnessed. That’s a problem. As we heard the words and saw the trappings of mass grief, we let the healing begin. That’s a problem, too.
They are problems because imagination and televised grief distance us from reality. That distance allows us to move on, something we should not allow ourselves this time, unless we want another Newtown; begotten by Aurora, or was it Tucson or Fort Hood, Blacksburg or Columbine, Oak Creek or Crandon. It’s easy to lose track.
This time, we must not lose track. Instead, we should listen to Shakespeare, his King Henry VI, Part Three, and a line Richard delivers after hearing that his father’s head has been stuck on a pike. He says, “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”
To fashion something meaningful from Newtown, we must stop our tears for it and build a resolve to pave a new route out of our gridlock of mass murder.
I don’t know what a head on a pike looks like. I can tell you what a human body looks like after a weapon like an AR-15 has been fired into it.
An infantryman is on a cot in a triage unit of a field hospital in Vietnam. The left side of his chest is gone, but he is alive. Blood is everywhere, including the hands of the nurse injecting fatal morphine to ease his passage into the universe. He says one last word, and it is, “Mom.” The nurse plucks the useless IV bottle from the stand and hurls it, hitting a doctor, where it shatters as she collapses in rage.
The AR-15 was the weapon du jour at Newtown, just as it was at Aurora and Crandon. Our grief will better build resolve if we have full access to the scenes inside Sandy Hook along with graphic descriptions of what fresh blood and torn-apart flesh smell like. Without them, we’re just playing out another violent video game.
We need to know what a 6-year-old looks like after an encounter with an AR-15. We need to see blood smears marking final struggles. We need to know that death inside Sandy Hook was not easy, that some of the victims suffered horribly.
Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that glossing over the blood-soaked facts of mass murder and its causes with heaps of teddy bears, candles and flowers helps nothing but the local economy in which the tragedy du jour occurs.
In response to Newtown, the National Rifle Association said initially it would respond when all the facts are known. But the NRA already had the only fact it needed: that if it waits long enough, Newtown will fade and we all will, as usual, move on by doing nothing. As we work our way out of our gridlock of mass murder, the NRA needs to be told to stay out of the discussion.
After “To weep is to make less the depth of grief,” Richard says,“tears then for babes; blows and revenge for me. Richard, I bear thy name; I’ll venge thy death, or die renowned by attempting it.”
Now we all bear the names of the Newtown dead. To honor them, we need first to slip and fall into their blood and with our rage forge resolve to venge their deaths with meaningful action worthy not only of who they were and what they might have been but of what we were before we became a nation of sheep.