I have been watching the news on the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut from Italy. (I am in Rome studying Italian for three weeks and praying and working with the Community of Sant’Egidio.) I first heard of the shooting through Fr. Francesco who made mention of it during his reflection for the community’s evening prayer last Friday. Since then my heart has been hurting for all the victims and their families, for the community of Newtown, for our nation and even for the disturbed young man who committed this horrible act.
Not that long ago our nation watched as different weather patterns and environmental factors came together to produce what we now call “Superstorm Sandy”. A storm that devastated New York and New Jersey. Rising sea levels combined with shifting air currents and warmer temperatures to produce the superstorm we saw wreck so much damage and take so many lives. I find it ironic that Hurricane Sandy and this elementary school share the same first name.
In many ways this is how I view what tragically happened last Friday – the coming together of so many fronts of different activity that produced an explosion of senseless violence and destruction – a “perfect storm” if you will. What are these “fronts”? I would list a few. The glorification of violence in our society throughout all forms of media, entertainment and interaction. The tearing down of social structures that have historically served as safety nets of support in our society (i.e. family, church, neighborhoods, community). The isolation of the individual that is growing in our society. The pressures laid on all people but especially the poorest due to the economic crisis. The overuse and over-prescribing of medications that can actually hinder the development of proper life coping skills. (There is a legitimate value to medication which I do not deny but I believe it a fair and needed question to ask if medications are overused and to question this overuse.) The de-valuing of life in our day and time – life in the womb, life in prison, the dignity of the stranger, the life of the elderly. A dismissal of any sense of the common good over a myopic focus on the individual. A breakdown of mental health services in our society. A destructive competitive edge to relationships and living and suceeding in life which permeates, it sometimes seems, even the very air which we breath. An easy access to guns and truly excessive fire-power that I cannot honestly believe the Founding Fathers could foresee.
I cannot help but believe that all these factors came together in a perfect storm in the life of that troubled young man – a perfect storm that exploded in Newtown.
In the classic movie “A Man for All Seasons” there is a scene where the son-in-law and family of Thomas More argue with the sainted Chancellor of the Realm. The impetuous young man wants to do away with the laws of the country in order to counter the unjust actions of the king and his agents. More challenges him on this by asking when all the laws of the country have been laid low like the trees of the forest cut down what will then protect them when the devil comes ravaging?
It is a profound question. When all has been cut down what will protect us when the devil comes ravaging?
Within all of this there is also the profound mystery of evil. Evil is real and we are naive to pretend it does not exist. As Christians though, we answer evil. We answer evil with the story of the cross and the empty tomb. Death and sorrow do not have the last word. As Christians, we tell the story and we get up again. In the face of evil we do good because God is love and love is the true center of life.
We get up.
It is time to get up and time to start building again. It is time for all of us to let go of the false philosophies that have torn down what once sheltered and protected us and have now come together to create the very factors that make the perfect storm real.
Why a school? I do not know if this question has been answered yet or will ever be answered. I will put forward one thought. In the context of a barren landscape where all has been cut down, where is the last place standing where life is protected and nurtured? I would say a school. Who are the living embodiments of life and our hopes for the future? I would say children.
We need to stand up. We need to start building again. Each one of us needs to fiercely search our souls and let go of any lies that tear down and divide and we need to start building. We need to live lives that counter violence, that overcome isolation, that seek relationship and that acknowledge both the dignity of the individual and the value of the common good.
If not us, then who?
It is for our children.