Sunday, December 16, 2012

In the small scheme of things

The news trickled in slowly, but soon it was known. A gunman shoots his way into an elementary school and kills 20 kids and six adults. 20 kids, ages 6-7. If there ever was a time for the nation to ask itself “WTF?”, it was at this time. (Frak if you’re a Galactica fan, the other word if you aren’t.) There was no other way to express it. This just shouldn’t happen.

It didn’t take long for people to come up with means of expressing it. The media’s way was to show pictures of terrified kids and crying adults. While this accurately conveys somewhat of the emotion of being there, I would rather have not seen these pictures. These people didn’t need the press descending on the crime scene. Twitter, of course, was abuzz with “the latest”, usually ended up being proven false. “Retweet this to show respect!”, as if my retweeting a picture of a letter that was obviously a fake meant anything. Within minutes of the story hitting the national scene there was a Wikipedia entry on the situation. Soon after the Facebook tribute pages popped up. “Post this picture of a candle to show respect.” “Post this picture of Jesus welcoming children into the kingdom of Heaven to show how much you care.” (Nobody is asking the question why Jesus didn’t just jam the dude’s gun so these kids could stay alive, but that’s another discussion for another time.) Here’s a good one: #prayfornewtown. What does that mean and what does that do? People who hold to no belief system at all hashtagged Twitter posts #prayfornewtown.  Again, if I’m going to pray for Jesus to bring his peace to these families suffering unspeakable loss, I might as well ask why Jesus didn’t just spare the kids so the family could have peace anyway. I can’t pray at this point. If you can, well, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

It might have taken an hour, maybe less, but gun control suddenly became the issue du jour. People on both sides of the rift insisted that  “I don’t want to politicize this situation, but this needs to be said!” followed by something that, quite frankly, didn’t need to be said. If you didn’t want to politicize the situation, then why didn’t you just shut the hell up for 24 hours and let these people grieve in peace? The answer is that most of the time it isn’t the quote that “needed to be said”, it’s the person who needed to do the saying. There are few things that “need to be said” right away. “Excuse me” when I belch, “I love you” to my wife, and “don’t go in there” when I hit the Head. Most other things can wait. But people have to be seen caring. They don’t know how to react in the face of such suffering, but they want to be seen reacting so they aren’t thought of as some unfeeling butthead. They know that people in Newtown aren’t likely to see the picture of the candle they reposted, but the people on their friends list will see it and say “aww, that really shows that Johnny Facebookgeek cares about something greater than himself.”

So what is the proper reaction to unspeakable tragedy for someone who doesn’t reside within 50 miles of Newtown, Connecticut?




Does that cover it?

There is no proper reaction. To cry would be an appropriate reaction; to want to send a card or financial gift to help with funeral costs, that would be an appropriate reaction; to hug your kids and not let go, that would be an appropriate reaction. All of these are appropriate, but none of them are “proper”, in that you can’t just say “if you really care, you will sign this petition to repeal the 2nd Amendment” or “if you really care, you will stop playing fantasy football or ordering out for pizza or having sex with your wife for the whole weekend.” Out of respect. After all, how can you think that your Saturday Monopoly game with Grandma and cousin Jed is at all meaningful in light of this horrendous tragedy?

The conundrum that we face as human beings is that we want to care for “the grand scheme of things”, but we don’t live in the grand scheme of things, we live in the small scheme of things. In the grand scheme of things, my son playing with his poop is not important in the light of such a tragedy. I need to thank God that I still have my son. True enough. But in the small scheme of things, I still have to clean the poop off the wall. In the grand scheme of things, the death of a cat cannot ever be compared to the death of a child. It is not even close to being close to being close. In the small scheme of things, when you have a cat for a long time and you have it put to sleep, it hurts a hell of a lot.

A very good friend of mine was over joyed at receiving a bracelet from her husband. She posted a picture of her wrist with the bracelet on it a day after the tragedy. She was overjoyed and even cried. Now, in the grand scheme of things, how could she cry over receiving a bracelet? How could she be happy in the face of such suffering? But we don’t live in the grand scheme of things, we live in the small scheme of things, and in the small scheme of things, if there is one woman in the world who deserves to explode with joy whenever her husband smiles at her or buys her something nice it is this woman, who waited so long to get married but didn’t stop living life waiting for it to happen.

I’m sorrowful, but I laugh. I want to be still, but I have been out most of the day.  I’m reflectful, but I’m writing this blog. This blog means nothing. This blog means something to someone.

We live in a constant tension. Better to just embrace the tension rather than be made to feel guilty because you enjoyed a chicken sandwich with special dressing and dared to say so. We want to have answers. We don’t have answers. Embrace the ambiguity. We want to cry. We laugh at a joke. Neither are wrong. If you live in Newtown, maybe cackling at a dumb blonde joke might not be the best thing to do. But even in Newtown, someone is going to pop in the Tootsie DVD tonight because they need a laugh.

In the small scheme of things, that Tootsie DVD might be the very thing they need.


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