Trying to Understand

18 Dec

The first time I remember watching the news with tears pouring down my face was the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. Then it was Columbine. Then it was 9/11. Now it is Sandy Hook.

After 9/11, I became a social worker. As a social worker, I trained myself to compartmentalize other people’s grief. I learned early on that I cannot take on their pain because life will hand me enough of my own. I help when I can. Sometimes that only means praying for them and letting them know they’re not alone.

Since then, I have watched tragedy after tragedy unfold on my television screen – soldiers’ funerals, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, mass murders. And not because I don’t care, simply because I have to, I have been able to distance myself from all of them. Until Friday. It hit me immediately. Viscerally.

As I watched the news with tears pouring down my face, my stomach in knots, my skin clammy and cold, fighting the urge to throw up, my almost-6 year old son sat in a kindergarten classroom a mile away from my house. I fought the urge to go get him. When it was finally time to pick him up I stood waiting with the other parents, all of us clearly desperate to hold our children. All of us scooping them up, hugging them tight, saying “I love you” over and over. His teacher hugged each of her students good-bye. She doesn’t normally do that.


My social worker’s heart tells me to stop thinking about it. Stop watching the news. Stop staring at little faces. Because I have to life my own life. But I can’t. I feel guilty. I feel like the least I can do is bear some of this pain along with the rest of the nation.

So I imagine the horror.

I imagine how many terrible mornings I’ve had with my son – when he refused to get his shoes on or finish his breakfast and what it would mean if I sent him to school and we were both frustrated and angry and something like this happened.

I imagine getting the call from the school district, telling me there has been a shooting at a school and rushing, panicked and insane with fear, to find my children.

I imagine being inside that school, what I would do to protect the children in my care.

I imagine what those poor babies went through. Because 6 and 7 is old enough to know what was happening.

I imagine sitting in a room, watching other parents weak with relief, file out with their children, knowing that with each reunion it is that much more unlikely I would have my own.

I imagine what it would mean if it was my son.

This isn’t healthy. I know that. But it is filling my head. Any time my mind isn’t otherwise occupied, it goes there. I am crying all the time. I cry when I see the flags at half-mast. I cry when my son says I love you. I cry at each Facebook post. I cry as I check on my sleeping children. I cry when I have to discipline my kids.  I cry when I drop my son off at school and I cry when I return home to research home schooling.

It’s not about me, but I am, as Jonniker said, flailing. It is too close to home. I am too helpless. I don’t know how to be thankful for my life and celebrate Christmas without feeling guilty.

I don’t know how to turn it off. I am terrified.

So I’m vowing to pay homage to those children and their families by being a better parent. By saying “yes” more. By not letting myself become annoyed at the little things they do that do not matter in the long run. It’s all I can do, I suppose.


Since my brother died, I never asked myself “why.” It seems counter-productive. If God has a reason, I’ll never know it. And it seemed clear “why” it happened – he and his friend made a really bad choice.

So as I struggle to deal with what happened at Sandy Hook, I don’t ask why. Even though I can’t imagine what purpose this could serve, I have to believe there is some purpose – God’s purpose – even though that makes me feel disgusted and angry and I am unable to imagine anything in this world is worth the lives of 20 babies.

A client of mine, a writer, posted an article about Sandy Hook on his site yesterday. It said, in part, this:

… consider the possibility that man is to God as a dog is to man, and a dog is to man as a flea is to a dog; i.e., the man, the dog, and the flea, who are merely tagging along for the ride, have neither the faintest idea as to why their masters do what they do nor the means to ever understand why.

The question then becomes:  Is God indifferent to us, as the dog is to the flea, or does He allow us to suffer for reasons we do not understand?  When someone takes his dog to the veterinarian, the dog has no idea why his master allows pain to be inflicted on him.  In the same way, perhaps God doesn’t always give us what we want, but what He knows we need.

…  If there is a God, surely He operates in a completely different dimension than we do, thus He alone knows His purpose.

… A Supreme Power would, by definition, transcend secular knowledge, just as man transcends a dog’s capacity to understand human reasoning.

This is the only comfort I can find. That there is a reason, far beyond our understanding. And because of that, those 20 babies are dancing in heaven right now, happy, comforted, souls alive.


One Response to “Trying to Understand”

  1. Wanderlust December 19, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    The word compassion, when broken down to its roots, means ‘to suffer with’. I think deep compassion is not simply to feel sympathy for another, but to actually, quite literally, feel their pain. I think that impetus to share another’s pain is born of a desire to ease it, or at the very least to share the burden. It may feel voyeuristic, but I really believe the kind of immersion into a tragedy that you describe, and that so many of us can identity with, is fueled, on a deep level, by a desire to connect with and bring solace to those who are in pain. x

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