On Saturday, December 15, I picked up my children at the childcare center in our gym. I could hear a child crying as I approached the door, but I soon saw my two coloring by a table, so my initial panic turned to a blend of relief, concern, and curiosity.
Once inside the room, I saw a father cradling his wailing 2-year-old son in his arms. The little guy had fallen and hit his head on the corner of a wall. I saw the lump– it was bluish and raised to the size of a demi-golf ball. The father was pacing around, barking accusations disguised as questions at the childcare staff. “Why wasn’t Zachary wearing his shoes? Did someone push him? Who else was around?” He probed for answers, while trying to comfort Zachary and dial the pediatrician.
That’s usually the moment when I would have that self-satisfied thought that he should worry less about who to blame and just focus on little Zachary.
You know what I thought? Jesus. It’s a bump on his head. He’s alive, you reactionary prick. RELAX.
If you are following along, you will note that was the day after the Newton massacre. It was less than 24 hours later and huge pieces of my emotional life had been rearranged.
Now, in my mind, because his child was alive and well (if bruised and upset), I had the sincere belief that the dad with his Adidas sweat pants should just chill the f*ck out and recognize that Zachary is gonna bump his head from time to time because that’s what happens when you let your kids ambulate.
I was disappointed that my reaction was so judgey and insensitive to that father, who, though a little intimidating, was simply reacting to his son’s pain. He was probably scared and shaken and trying to deal with the situation the best that he could.
That morning, I gave myself a pass because it had only been 20 hours since I had heard about the devastation in Connecticut. I wasn’t thinking clearly; nobody else was either. I grabbed my babies, wished little Zachary well, and went home.
Then, in early January, I came across an article about the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. (Last fall, when that story was splashed all over the headlines, I couldn’t read about it, because it was so upsetting to me. One night I had to wake Jeff up after reading a paragraph on CNN because it scared me, and I couldn’t sleep.) Last week, when I revisited that topic, I felt less triggered. At least all of those kids are alive.
Did I just minimize a systematic sexual abuse scandal simply because it wasn’t a flat-out massacre?
I did. That’s exactly what just happened. And there are other examples of how my thoughts have been perverted since Newton. The calculus is forever altered because now Newton is the worst nightmare I can imagine befalling a family or a community. Anything short of that is, well, not as bad as Newton. Would I rather my kids fall prey to a depraved pedophile or a sick person with an assault weapon? Of course, we all know the answer. The problem is the question.
I hate the question. Because the real answer is that I don’t want any horrible things to happen to my kids or any other kids. Hell, I don’t want them to ever get a bump as big as Zachary’s, much less suffer the more tragic, damaging things. None of it is acceptable. It all keeps me up at night, and that seems like an appropriate reaction to evil.
God forbid, if something worse than Newton happens, then suddenly, will Newton not seem so horrific? How can that be?
I don’t want to live in an ever-escalating parade of horribles, where yesterday’s tragedy becomes “not as scary” in light of today’s. I don’t want to be desensitized. I want to be prickling with sensitivity and compassion and energy that might lend itself to solutions and healing. But I need to change my thinking first– starting with the questions: instead of “What’s worse?” I’m trying, “How can I be part of the solution?”