Monday, December 17, 2012

Ignoring a National Tragedy

This post is going to be entirely off topic as far as my normal blog topic.  But it's been bubbling up inside me all weekend and I have to get it out.

My husband was watching the 49ers football game while I was making dinner on Sunday evening.  I could hear the TV but wasn't really listening.  They interrupted the broadcast to air President Obama's speech in Newtown on the Sandy Hook school shooting.  I first heard of the shooting on Facebook.  I was scanning my news feed on my phone Friday morning and saw these posts from some other moms.
"Could not pick up my daughter fast enough today...heart is so heavy."

"walking through today with a heavy heart... I want to go home and be with my kids.... I cannot even wrap my brain around this tragic event."

"Hugging my kids extra tight today. So terribly sad about today's events."
I knew something bad had happened, but what?  I jumped over to CNN and saw the headline.  No, not kids.  No, please no.  20 kids?!  Elementary school kids?!  No.  Quick, turn it off.  And I did.  I got off my phone and decided in that moment that I could not handle this one.  This one in particular, being a mom to two small children - it just hits too close to home. 

But why do I feel so guilty?  I think part of me feels it's disrespectful to ignore the loss of life.  To tune out of the pain and grief.  I tell myself that watching the news and crying over the innocent lives  lost won't help anyone anywhere.  But I still feel bad.  How can I ignore this?  How can I just tune out to something so horrid? 

I wonder how this is tied to 9/11.  When I think about it, that's the last national tragedy I tuned in to.  I watched the news, glued, hanging on every detail.  What happened?  How?  Why?  And I cried.  I cried and cried and cried.  So many lost lives, so many dreams destroyed.  Horrible images of fire and destruction are seared in my brain.  Even today reading about 9/11, seeing those iconic images of the planes bursting into the twin towers, even still I can tear up in an instant.  It was so long ago now, but the tragedy is set deep in not just the national conscious, but in my own.  I wonder if these mass killings trigger a bit of that pain.

By Saturday I was feeling the weight of the story.  As much as I avoided the news, the images and the headlines were everywhere.  I made my own Facebook post.
"I can't watch the news. Haven't so far and won't. I am all full up on the underbelly of humanity. I'm starting to think the 24/7 media coverage that ensues after one of these nightmares is part of the problem. I might have my head in the sand but so be it."
It was a defensive post in response to the strange sort of guilt I was feeling by ignoring the whole thing.  My head was in the sand, deep in the sand.  I didn't want to see one little face, hear about a small child who loved to run and listen to dance music.  I didn't want to see a line of school children walking out of a war zone.  I can't handle the dramatic music while the news rips my heart out with a slideshow of innocent kids in happier moments.  And the parents, going to bed without their babies, it's just all too much.

Then there's the murderer.  More than anything, I didn't want to see him.  I don't want to know his name, read about his childhood and the probable causes of his loss of humanity.  I don't care about his motivations, his parents or where he grew up.  Why are we making these people famous?  During a live sports broadcast if someone runs naked onto the playing field the camera cuts away so as not to give them what they want.  Attention, national attention.  Fame.  For some people, by any means necessary.  But I don't want to participate.  I can cut away.

I can turn away from the media's autopsy, from the cable version of grief and sorrow.  Instead I will hold my kids a bit tighter, take that extra moment to let them put on socks "all by myself", bake cookies and dance in the living room.  Do all those things that make a childhood so special.  My head may still be in the sand but my heart is filled with gratitude at being able to fall asleep knowing my kids are safe and sound, tucked in bed, hopefully with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.

Still, the drum beat of the 24-hour news cycle goes on, amped up with dramatic music and pre-commercial teasers, "stay tuned for a shocking interview with the school-bus driver."  We stare, hands over our mouths and tears in our eyes, shocked.  They strive to keep you on the edge of your seat, needing to get the next kernel of information.  We all want to understand.  But knowing which way the murderer ran around the school grounds, what he was wearing, who he talked to that morning - none of it brings the kind of understanding that will help.  It's as if watching the news and getting information has become part of our national grieving process.

And I think I want to grieve too, I need to.  Twenty children died.  Six adults.  As much as I want to tune out and cut away, the loss of lives can't be ignored.  Which brings me back to President Obama's speech on Sunday night.  I'm in my warm kitchen, making chili and cornbread, listening to my children play in front of the Christmas tree and his words drift in from the TV room...  
"...I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you. We’ve pulled our children tight.
And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide. Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown, you are not alone."
And I cry.  At first I try not to, and then I don't.  I will share in this sadness, I will not let you grieve alone.  I won't be watching the news or reading the articles, but I will be caring.  My tears won't bring back your children, won't guarantee the safety of my own children, but they will show that we are not alone.  That as parents, as Americans, as humans - we are not alone.  Not in our celebrations, nor in our sorrow. 


  1. I know it does not help. But so many of us are grieving and carry a heavy heart. Seeing those faces and hearing the details is just too are right about that. What can we do
    ? I keep asking myself. Feel so helpless.

    1. Thanks Leticia. It is helpful to be reminded we're all grieving together.

  2. There are plenty of people who share what you've written and are feeling.

    1. I'm seeing more and more about ignoring the murderer. I hope things do change, I hope we're recognizing this isn't helpful in the long run. I'm glad for one thing, that he's dead and we don't have to suffer through a horrible trial or emotional sentencing hearings.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I, too, buried my head in the sand and tried to stay away from the news. And then I lost it Sunday night and cried and cried. Thank you for your poignant post.

    1. Thanks Erika. It's tough stuff, and with small children, so very hard to imagine the pain and anguish. You didn't cry alone, my eyes were moist all night.

  4. I can no longer sit and watch breaking news all day for tragedies like this. I used to do it, but now I have to let things filter in a bit at a time. And I to come to the point where I can't avoid a major news report and it hits me. Thank you for a wonderful blog post.


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