I wrote an essay this afternoon, at roughly 2:30 PM, mostly out of frustration and a kind of helplessness. It is my hope that people will identify with these feelings and that, whatever form grief takes, we will continue the essential constructive dialogue that today’s events call for.
We no longer huddle around the television to learn about national news. As the piece below relates, what we do now is experience news in what I believe is a bizarre and fragmentary way. National tragedies amplify this strangeness. Grief is to be shared. With whom? What does it mean to “share” in the Facebook age?
As horrifying details continue to emerge, here’s footage of President Obama addressing today’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which is just 40 miles or so west of Middletown. Continuing updates on the tragedy appear here.
In the brief remarks, Obama says that he addressed the tragedy not as president, but “as a parent.” “Our hearts are broken today,” the president says, pausing to pull himself together. “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them.” He appears to choke up at various points in the video.
“We’re going to have to take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” the president continues, but he doesn’t address gun control in any specific way. The full text of Obama’s remarks appears here, via The Atlantic Wire.
Newtown is a short drive from Wesleyan, so it’s no surprise that the Middletown community is particularly shaken by the shooting. Like many WesKids, I’ve driven through Newtown countless times on I-84 to get to Wes. I’ve stopped and had lunch at the town’s Blue Colony Diner. I’ve had professors who live in the town. According to Middletown Patch, Middletown Superintendent of Schools Patricia Charles has sent a letter to Middletown parents promising to redouble efforts to keep children safe in Middletown schools:
Governor Hickenlooper has a tough task ahead of him. If anyone knows this, it’s former Governor Bill Owens, who served during the aftermath of the Columbine Massacre. But today the current governor spoke with grace and poise, even as he acknowledged the impossibility of expressing his grief in words. Hickenlooper spoke at a press conference with other Colorado authorities, and his voice cracked as he urged citizens not to “allow people that are aberrations of nature to take away the joys and freedoms that we enjoy”:
Our hearts are broken as we think about the family and friends of the victims of this senseless tragedy. This is the act, apparently, of a very deranged mind. This is a safe city and a safe state and a safe country. And we need to recognize we can’t allow people that are aberrations of nature to take away the joys and freedoms that we enjoy. . . . There’s not one of us—certainly those of use who have children—who does not hear this story and think of that being your child in that movie theater. And that reality makes the pain and the grief too intense for words. We will come back stronger than ever from this, although it’s obviously going to be a very hard process.
The Bill Owens connection (and geographic proximity to Littleton) underscores one revelation: that what is most chilling about the tragedy is not the killer’s combat outfit or his advanced weaponry or booby-trapped apartment or even the on-scene cell phone videos spilling into news reports.