Posted by: MC | December 18, 2012

What do we learn? What do we teach? The days after Sandy Hook

Schoolita Alegria, Portland, OR 01-29-09 mmc

Love that takes us out of ourselves and binds us to something larger. 

President Obama

Newtown, CT

The days move by in this the darkest season for the Northern Hemisphere.  Saturday was the day after, Sunday two days after, Monday three, Tuesday four ….  These days will pass into months and years, and those of us still drawing breath in these wild and precious lives will continue.  As we do, we will feel the range of things people feel in response to the range of experiences humans have.  And most, if not all of us old enough to remember will remember.  In that, we are forever changed.

The finally unspeakable horror of last Friday morning in Newtown, Connecticut has touched us all – as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation.  Each of us has made some kind of meaning of the terrifying murder of twenty small children and six adults who were simply in the everyday act of being in school.

The meaning we make may simply be in the form of knowing the most well known facts.  A young man’s name, Adam Lanza; the name of an elementary school in Connecticut, Sandy Hook.  Some of us may even remember some or even all of the names of the victims – the children:  Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Anna Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeline Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison Wyatt –the adults: Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto.

Many of us can’t yet make any meaning at all beyond those factual things.  Over time, we will.  And, because the stakes are so very high, those of us less immediately affected must make thoughtful meaning toward responsible and responsive action as soon as we are able.

Toward that necessity, I’m so far mostly finding questions.  What can we do with these things, for example?

  • The fact that most of the names I’ve just listed of the children who died last Friday will be forgotten long before the shooter’s name drops from memory?

Remember Christina Taylor Greene,  the 9 year old born 9/11/2001 who was killed in the shooting that seriously injured Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?    I’d forgotten, too and had to look her up again, even though her death moved me to writing the same way these deaths do.

  • Then there is the related fact that most of us already don’t remember the names of the adults killed at the Sandy Hook School.
  • Next I think of the good possibility that other people who are distressed in the way of young Adam Lanza see these first two points of fact as instruction:  If you want to make a mark on history and see no way of succeeding otherwise, find a gun, automatic or not and kill lots of people with it.  Your photo will be broadcast across the globe – for days; your name will be recorded and repeated for centuries.

In the search for meaning there also the question of responsibility which is also a question about how to respond.  If Adam Lanza is solely responsible, his death at his own hand may be taken as justice.  But there are other considerations that won’t be silenced.

A social media post I’ve seen a few times from 2nd Amendment advocates has a photo of Former President Ronald Reagan and this quote, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.  It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

Here is a place to start.  Yes, any individual who harms – any individual who supports or shows kindness – each of us is responsible for her or his actions.  At the same time in a way that is impossible to parse, all action of harm occurs in context.  In the case of Sandy Hook, the context was an elementary school in a small town in a state and in a nation.  The shooter was part of a family in the community, state, nation – all affected by and affecting each other.

Thinking in these terms is not new, but it is different from the prevailing way of assigning responsibility in our country.  Several years ago I was on a flight to Washington, DC.  An older Native American man was in the seat to my left.  It was a long nonstop.  Over time we got into conversation.  He told me he had just stepped down as a Chief Justice for the court system on Navajo.  He explained the Navajo way of justice.  When a crime is committed and comes to adjudication, the perpetrator is held responsible for his or her actions.  At the same time, and as a simultaneous part of the justice process, the family and community come together to ask themselves specifically and systematically what they might have done differently to prevent the perpetrator getting to the point of criminal action.  From there they plan for what they will change to prevent similar actions in the future.

How do we support the children as they grow and how do we support each other as we live, so that the compulsion to do harm is reduced – even eliminated?

Mr. Regan’s words contain an unrealistic opposition in the phrase “society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.”  In truth, it is never one or the other, both are guilty.  If this is not seen and accepted, no action toward prevention is possible and, yes, we will proceed to shoot each other – in the misguided desperation for meaning through infamy and in the name of self-defense.  Of course, that – the shooting of each other — remains one option.  But it is only one.  There are myriad others.

Still, today I have little sense of what the death and damage in Newtown, Connecticut mean, beyond the facts of the case and the nagging questions of “Why?” and “What now?” that run in the feedback loop in my head.  Like so many of us, I know my heart and mind and spirit are aching.  They are aching because of love – the love of the parents of the children who were killed, the love of the families of the adults, and of all the people who love and care for all of those people and so forth and so on to cover all people everywhere.

This is one of the things I’ve learned so far from the children and adults who died on Friday.  May we all continue listening as their lives and deaths teach what we so desperately need to learn.

Charlotte Bacon
Daniel Barden
Olivia Engel
Josephine Gay
Anna Marquez-Greene
Dylan Hockley
Madeline Hsu
Catherine Hubbard
Chase Kowalski
Jesse Lewis
James Mattioli
Grace McDonnell
Emilie Parker
Jack Pinto
Noah Pozner
Caroline Previdi
Jessica Rekos
Avielle Richman
Benjamin Wheeler
Allison Wyatt

Rachel Davino
Dawn Hochsprung
Anne Marie Murphy
Lauren Rousseau
Mary Sherlach
Victoria Soto.


  1. Thank you Mary. Your words are an echo of my heart.

    Still beating,

    Valerie 503-284-4201


  2. Any individual who harms, any individual who shows support or kindness..i like these words. And i believe we are ALL responsible..if among the choir, are we walking the talk!? Thanks mary

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