Monday, December 17, 2012
The Further Erosion of American Innocence
“And the beat goes on.....................”
The last line in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is:
“And Ralph wept for the end of innocence and the darkness of man’s heart”.
In the face of the senseless carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary school this past weekend, America again shed tears in the continuing erosion of its innocence, and the recognition of the darkness in the heart of one seriously disturbed young man.
The horrific, unfathomable act left the world shocked and stunned. No words are adequate to capture the profound numbness of the aftermath. That it was aimed at the most innocent among us - six and seven year olds - babies really - now robbed of their lives before they really started, is just so devastating that we don’t know how to react. We desperately want to make some sense of it.
Looking at the pictures of the perpetrator, he seems not much more than a child himself. What motive could he have had to do something so evil? What so tortured his soul and twisted his mind that he could have so callously hurt babies? We desperately want to make some sense out of so senseless an act and the nation waits to hear some plausible answer as to “Why”? But endless analysis of who he was and relentless speculation as to why he did what he did will bring us no answers, no comfort, no way to understand. There is no sense to be made out of so senseless an act.
It was random - predictable only in the sense that these things happen - more often now than in the past perhaps. Of course, senseless violence and the misery it causes happens all over the world. This one hit home - it happened in our back yard. With seven billion people on the planet it may be a miracle that it doesn’t happen more often. Then, maybe it will.
We will talk about pathologies and the growing incidence of untreated mental illnesses, and we will debate and promote gun control and security, but the lack of a rational societal response to mental illness and easy access to guns on the street will remain unchanged.
This horrible event will doubtless diminish the joy of the holidays. Even as kids gleefully open their presents on Christmas morning and squeal with delight, it will be hard not to reflect on the suffering in New Town. Parents will hug their children a little tighter, worry a little more. Little kids may wonder if they are safe. It is hard to get something like this out of one’s mind; hard to compartmentalize it; hard to deal with it.
Life will go on. It always does. The nation will return to the daily grind. We will recover. But it will not be so easy for those in that town. The depth of the sorrow of those who lost a child or loved one is deeper than one can fathom. Those poor people - and especially the mothers and fathers who lost the precious life of a child - will never again be the same. How could they be? Some may find the strength somehow to move past it, but their lives will be forever broken, decimated, empty and devoid of the joy their children had brought to them. They have only begun to pay the price that will be extracted from them, and in part that is what is so painful for the country - how to help them, when we know deep in our hearts there is no way we can provide more than empathy, comfort and shared grief. And in the end, no matter how heartfelt, no matter how massive that outpouring of sympathy, it will not be enough to ever make the lives of parents who must cope with this loss whole again, as at least part of them died when their baby died. These are wounds that never completely heal. They run so deep that the suffering cannot even cling to anger as a way to cope. How very cruel.
In the short run, the outpouring of support may help them to keep busy and not think too much about their loss, though the rituals of the season most assuredly will be hard reminders of what their lives were. But that diversion will ebb, and they will be left inconsolable with their pain. Those who have a deep, abiding faith may find some comfort and solace there. I cannot imagine that any soul in the universe is more disconsolate, more profoundly saddened than the deity we call God.
We in the arts - whether directly as artists or those who support them in some way - have the great and good gift of dealing with beauty, with joy and hope - even in the face of despair; with redemption, salvation and the wellspring of epiphany. We do this in a world that is sometimes unimaginably ugly. What can we now do? Nothing more than to keep doing what we do; to continue to be part of what makes life good, what makes it worthwhile, what gives hope and joy and brings smiles to faces.
My heart joins the millions of hearts that hope those parents can somehow again smile and know joy in their lives - even if now forever abbreviated and brief. I cannot imagine their grief will ever go away entirely. My heart aches for them.
Like Ralph, I weep for the further end to innocence and the hard, cold reality of the darkness of some men’s hearts. And I hope that somehow we are not again soon so terrifyingly reminded of that darkness.
I take comfort in the goodness of mankind manifested in the response to this tragedy - the outpouring of genuine love and concern - a small corner, I know, but that is all that we have.
Hug your children and each other.