A writer’s response to the futility of words


I’ve been struggling to think of how to write about the massacre in Newtown, Conn. in which 20 students, six teachers, one mother and the gunman, Adam Lanza, lost their lives. Media junkie that I am, I spent Friday glued to my media sources of choice (because don’t we all seek out the purveyors we most prefer? I know that, off the clock, I’m as guilty as anyone) as I traveled to Ledyard, Conn. to be with my family for the weekend. Sitting around the Christmas tree, watching my four-year-old cousin play innocently at our feet, listening to the squeaks of his little voice making his toys talk to each other, the conversation kept revolving back to the tragedy that had taken place. My parents, aunts and uncles tried to find solace in conjecture, groping for answers where there were none, for solutions to a problem so big, none of us could carry it in our hearts alone.

What struck me most, more than our differing opinions or the anger that rose from a deeper sadness than we knew how to express, was the futility of those conversations. That’s why it has taken me so long to write about the events of last Friday. As a journalist, my first instinct is to gather the facts. I feel most comfortable when I know the what, when, where, why and how of any given story. I like being able to respond to any situation with data, my own numbers, my own informed perspective. As a writer, I like to send my own words out into the world. Response is my first and strongest inclination.

But what do you say when children were mercilessly gunned down in the halls, scented with the chalk dust that settles over the classrooms of our own childhoods? What’s the solution to the slaughter of innocence in an idyllic town most known for its quaint, quiet charm? What’s the response when there is no logical explanation, when nothing you say will make it better, make it right, make it make any more sense?

This is not the time to talk about enacting tighter gun control laws or increasing school security. This isn’t the time to talk about overhauling our mental health treatment system. This isn’t the time to trot out our pet causes, no matter how important they may be. When parents are holding funerals instead of Christmas parties, there is nothing we can say, and I think that’s why I’ve spent all week grasping at straws where “why” should be.

Sometimes, as a woman of words, I forget the solace of silence. Today, social media fell quiet for five minutes to let the pall of remembrance fall over us all. And wasn’t that moment more powerful than any statement anyone could have made, any speech we can throw into the ether?

Tis the season for brotherhood. Tis the season to gather family and friends and be grateful that we have another year with one another. Tis the season to recognize that we are blessed, no matter what source we recognize for that blessing or what holiday lights our windows, our eyes and our hearts.

This blog won’t offer any suggestions for how we, as a nation, can comfort the people of Newtown or how we can respond to this tragedy with policy or law. It’s too soon for that. Right now, let us remember the people who are no longer with us, as well as those who must try to carry on without them. Let’s recognize the empty place at 26 tables, the garish mockery of Christmas decorations in a silent school, the fresh wounds in the cemetery grounds not with words clutching at causes, but with silence.

We should all respect the affected that much, at least.


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