The enormity of Sandy Hook has hit us hard. It is almost too much to bear. So we do what humans do and try to make sense of things by finding our reflections in the details.
Proponents of gun control say that stricter laws would have prevented the tragedy. Those against gun control say that guns don’t kill people, people do. Others castigate both sides for attempting to politicize the massacre of innocents. Meantime, nobody really knows what could have prevented this from happening now or on into the future, Heaven Forbid.
A pro-Israel friend posts about Maalot, in which 22 Israeli schoolchildren were killed, and a friend castigates him for using Sandy Hook as political capital to support a favored cause.
We post about the Jewish child, Noah Pozner, because we are Jewish and it helps us relate. Others are offended that we express pain over a Jewish child—that we don’t see death by massacre as ecumenical, that we don’t realize all creation deserves our pain when torn from the earth by evil.
We avidly read whatever we can find about Sandy Hook, devouring photos, video clips, and articles, feeling frustrated when no more information is available. Then we excoriate the media for refusing to give the families their privacy.
We pour over photos of anguish, preferring the wailing child over the more stoic children being led through the school parking lot with their eyes closed, a teacher leading them from in front.
We are in full moral panic mode.
What is moral panic?
The term was invented by Stanley Cohen who wrote about the concept in Folk Devils and Moral Panics, in 1987. It works like this: the media runs with a story, amplifying events to gigantic proportions in order to generate ratings. The world becomes fascinated, completely absorbed, unable to think about anything else and devouring every bit of related news as if addicted.
A most important part of the moral panic process is found in identifying a scapegoat.
We need to blame someone or something. We need to blame guns or gun laws. We need to blame Lanza or his parents. We need to blame God or Huckabee.
The media offers us ample choice for an object or person(s) to blame. Important authorities are brought to bear. They weigh in and tell us where to point our willing fingers. There are priests and rabbis. There are cops and medical examiners. There are neighbors and friends. We are treated to an endless parade of authoritative figures who opine about people, laws, and things to blame.
But soon, the voices coalesce and a narrative is found: a reason for the tragedy. Cohen called this summary of events the “moral barricade.” At last the public has a diagnosis of sorts, a way to understand the evil, the hubbub dies down. We move on.
In Israel, where I live, there are endless senseless violent murders. When something bad happens, the radio plays sad music, as if offering confirmation that we are in the midst of a tragedy, that we are supposed to FEEL. We have learned to absorb the tragedies and then let the feelings wear off as we move back into the swing of real life.
But a part of me hates us for that: for the very humanity of moving on.
I watched the reactions of my friends after Casey Anthony was acquitted of killing her 2 year-old daughter, Caylee. I watched my friends post meme after meme, promising they’d never forget their “angel.” But when is the last time they actively thought about Caylee? How many days until we moved on to something else?
It’s human to move on.
I resolved long ago, to try to engrave the names of the victims on my mind—to reserve a special corner of my heart for the memories of those robbed of the fullness of time. I pause for a moment and reflect on the names. I let them truly sink in because I know that these details are fleeting and I feel the victims deserve something more from us. I do my best.
Today, I resolved not to post anything of a frivolous or political nature on Facebook out of respect for the families of Sandy Hook. “Is one day enough?” I wondered. “How many days are enough? One day? Two days? A week?”
How many days are enough to mourn little children shot through their tender flesh multiple times with an assault rifle? How many days will their parents mourn?
For the families of Sandy Hook, there is no forgetting, or moving on. They will develop a new normal, while we will forget about them at some point, for days or perhaps weeks and months on end. This is human, too. We cannot expect our pain to match their own. That would be somehow disrespectful.
For the meantime, I resolve to be kind to my friends who are expressing their pain and outrage in a most human way: trying to find meaning by connecting the event to politics, gun control, God in or out of school, and by hating the media even while yearning for more and more terrible photos.
Let us be a little kinder to each other then, more understanding about the varied experiences of human beings confronted with horror. Let us not castigate each other for our reactions, even as we disagree or find them distasteful. Let’s be there for each other, for as long as that is needed.
And now a prayer, for I believe in God. Please God, rest the souls of the little children, their nurturing teachers and principal. Help the families to find meaning and goodness in spite of the horror. Let them find their balance. Let us be adequate in loving them. May we remember them enough. May we care.