The senselessness alone would have been sufficient.
So too the sheer horror.
The devastated families, the tapestry of their lives ripped apart, would have been more than enough to make the events at Sandy Hook Elementary almost too weighty to bear.
Much as they were more than a decade before at Columbine, or in any number of other mass or spree shootings — over five dozen by one count, more than 150 by another — that have played out over the past few decades.*
There is nothing, one would hope (and even suspect) that could make the present moment any worse.
And yet sadly, there is, and it is something that one hears almost every time one of these tragedies transpires. Over and again, no matter how frequently they happen, and no matter how often the specifics of the latest event eerily mirror the last one and the one before that — the high capacity weaponry, the apparent mental and emotional instability of the shooter, and the relatively bucolic surroundings of the locale where the deed is done — it is said again and again with no sense of irony or misgiving.
And it is maddening.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen here.”
Or perhaps, “No one could have imagined something like this happening in our community.”
Or even worse, “This is a nice, safe place,” which of course was the same thing said about Springfield, Oregon, Pearl, Mississippi, Littleton and Aurora, Colorado, Moses Lake, Washington, Jonesboro, Arkansas, Santee, California, Edinboro, Pennsylvania, Paduchah, Kentucky, and pretty much every one of the dozens of places where the things that never happen appear to happen regularly enough to constitute something well North of never; indeed quite a bit up from rare.
To have said merely that these things are not supposed to happen, at all, anywhere, to anyone’s children would have been both appropriate and more to the point, true. Six year old children are not supposed to die, whether from gunfire or untreated asthma, whether from violence or inadequate nutrition and medical care. Parents are not supposed to bury their children. Period. And yet every year millions upon millions around the world do, including untold tens of thousands across the United States.
But it is not enough, apparently, to simply remark that there is something tragic and unexpected and uniquely unacceptable about childhood mortality, and to leave it at that, to punctuate this most obvious and banal truism with a period and be done. No, it is that additional four letters, that one hanging syllable, that modifier of our shock and amazement, which localizes its unacceptability in a particular space — here. Not there, but here.
Still, after all these years, and all these sanguinary calamities, there remains the utter surprise that yes, evil can visit the “nice” places too. What’s that you say? Childhood death isn’t just for the brown and poor anymore? Not merely a special burden to be borne by the residents of South Chicago, West Philadelphia, or Central City New Orleans? There is dysfunction and pathology and general awfulness where some of the beautiful people too reside? Yes precious, yes indeed. This time would you please write it down? Perhaps make it your Facebook status forever, so you won’t forget?
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