I’m old enough to remember the 1978 Jonestown tragedy, when 900 people committed mass suicide, and the unimaginable horror that shook our souls when we heard the news. How could we live on the same planet where such a thing could happen?
The Newtown shootings are a psychic shock of the same magnitude, but times are different. We’ve seen too much: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Nickel Mines, Tucson, and Aurora, Colorado.
The reaction now runs a predictable course: the frantic, error-riddled torrent of Twitter posts and cable news reporting, the stampede of reporters to the affected community, the obsessive focus of all media looking for local angles and meaningful sidebars, the talk show patter about school security, gun control, psychological counseling and violent video games.
And there’s our own grief – the desperate, maddening, bottomless sorrow that compels us to want to do something, anything for those whose lives are devastated. So we send our checks, our good will, our thoughts and prayers by the million in a giant funnel to a tiny group of people that can’t possibly feel it all. Or maybe they can.
But eventually, after a week, a month, six months, we absorb the blow. As unthinkable as it is, we adjust to the fact that it happened. Life intercedes, and we move on.
Maybe because this monstrosity took so many young children, something will happen in Congress on gun control. Some common sense measures would, over time, probably make a difference. But Republican leaders are reacting cautiously, saying little about the subject for now.
There is one thought that’s occurred to me over the past few days – that there’s a Newtown every week in this country. According to National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, something like 1,700 children a year die from abuse and neglect in the United States, a number that almost certainly underestimates the toll.
But because those kids die one at a time, in homes scattered across the land, they don’t get the attention of the innocents at Newtown and Nickle Mines.
Government child welfare programs and non-profits that serve children are chronically under-funded. Maybe this is a good time to remember and support the folks who try and save kids every day.