Reflections on the Newtown massacre

The older I get, the more connections I feel to people of all different backgrounds and to events.

Yesterday morning’s horrific, seemingly incomprehensible mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school and Hoboken home had points of intersection for me.

Before becoming a writer, I was in education for 15 years, learning to teach from Paul Tamburello, my fourth grade teacher.

I remember vividly both how some of the best and most important teaching that ever takes place in children’s lives happens during those years, and how, in order for that learning to occur, the students must feel safe.

That safety has obviously been shattered in Newtown now, and, if not forever, for a very, very long time to come.

It has been written that suspected gunman Adam Lanza, just a little bit older than our beautiful young man Aidan, may have Asperger’s, a variation of autism.

We know dear friends whose son has the same condition.

At base, I am a New Englander through and through. While I have not been to Newtown, I know the type of community in which the tragedy occurred.

Beyond the connections, the event had a painfully familiar rhythm.

As a journalist, I had that wearying sense of again donning psychic armor as I shifted what I was doing and turned to wading through the enormous signal to try to find the noise of this devastating, confusing and swiftly changing story.

The noting of distinctions between more regular urban violence and these eruptions of mass killings in suburban settings and assertion of the need for or absence of gun control and mental health support began.

And, like others before, our president’s voice and heart were heavy with grief as he went on television and tried to use language to describe what truly has no words while he spoke about the 20 children who will never graduate elementary or high school, never marry or have children of their own.

Our hearts are broken today, he said in between dabbing at his eyes and pausing for seconds at a time.

The psychiatrists and my fellow trauma journalists who have done this before explained again, as they did in Aurora and Oregon months and even weeks ago, why these murders happen over and over again.

After the proverbial dust has settled, I’m confident the mainstream news media will engage in earnest analysis about why they got the suspected gunman’s name wrong, look at the accelerating and confounding role that social media played, and pledge to do better the inevitable next time, which very well may happen sooner than we expect.

Yet, for all this familiar flurry of activity and outpouring of unspeakable grief and however many connections I feel to this and other events, I also feel with more and more conviction that the issue in solving the world’s problems, from education to poverty to climate change to, yes, deadly school shootings, is not the lack of understanding about why they happen.

It’s the will to do what’s needed.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’m not suggesting that we can engineer and control human behavior or outcomes.

But I am saying that all too often, even in the face of unimaginable pain and grief, we do not as a human community do the hard work of truly honoring those who suffer by taking the steps necessary to ensure that such tragedies are far less likely to happen again.

That knowledge, perhaps, hurts most of all.

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6 responses to “Reflections on the Newtown massacre

  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for doing what you do so well – put words around that which is so difficult. I saw Frank Ochberg speak on CNN last night, and was reminded of the wisdom we came to see in Italy – from so many who bravely face these tragedies and offer healing to those in the midst of acute, penetrating grief. He wisely reminded how by coming together – even the president offering empathy as a father, grieving leader – and trying to make sense of this as a community is the beginning of the healing process for everyone affected.
    Thanks for being one of those journalists who choses to help people heal by bringing together to process and not by sensationalizing that which is so personal to the survivors and their families. Kudos to you my friend,
    Love from Texas,
    Tracey

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks so much to you, Tracey, for your kind words. They mean a lot to me because I think so highly of you. I saw recently that your husband and you received some well-deserved, but not sought, recognition for the work you have done bringing healing to injured people and communities all over the world. In addition to enjoying the times that we spoke and admiring your efficiency and ambition, I appreciated so much the moral center from which both of you operate.

      Thank you for your work and your gifts to the world.

      Love to your crew from ours.

      Jeff

  2. Jeff,

    Good essay, Jeff. I couldn’t agree more.

    Frank

  3. And we must persevere in the knowledge (hope) of the ultimate goodness in the vast majority. With love and confidence in the peace. Ginna

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