Losing love is like a window in your heart/Everybody sees you’re blown apart/Everybody sees the wind blow ~ Paul Simon, Graceland

In the aftermath of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary (a school where a friend of mine sends her child, who is safe), I’ve been struggling to write something coherent, a cohesive argument about the way forward.  Or something beautiful, something to hold onto that feels more solid than words.  Instead, pieces have come out.  This morning I realized that it is OK to write the fragments, OK to live with the pieces.  Right now, it is all we have.  Here are my fragments, born of my grief.  I hope they help you in some small way as we begin to look for a way to heal and to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.


When you have friends and relatives all over the country (many of us do), the places they live are like little oases, a small bit of home in the middle of unfamiliar territory.  Sandy Hook is one of those places for me, an address I write on a Christmas card that brings fond memories of laughter and peace and pleasure.  When I saw the name of the elementary school in the news, it went through me like an electric shock.  This is how it should feel every time a tragedy like this happens; the whole country is our shared oasis, our home.  Every child lost is a child we collectively care for, and hearing their names should be like a shock through all our systems.  It is this love that binds us together; it is this love that will save us.

A Mother’s Hands

I have a mother’s hands.  They find what is lost, mend what is broken.  These hands have cleaned the gunk from the bottom of a toilet, pulled many a loose tooth from its socket, braided hair, measured medicine in careful dosages, marked a slowly articulated word on the page, and kneaded the dough for dinner, helping tiny hands add the final pat.  These hands are a mundane miracle, just like yours.  These hands do not want to hold this, but they will.  They must.  We must hold on, and we must let go, each in their proper time and place.

Scattered Knives

Liza Long, in her essay I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, discusses gathering all the knives in the house and putting them safely in a Tupperware container.  After reading this essay, and hearing President Obama’s speech in Newtown in which he rightly said we aren’t doing enough to keep our children safe, I had this thought:  culturally, we have left our knives scattered about, and worse.  We have created an explosive cocktail that makes mass murder both attractive and relatively easy, entitles rather than treats young white male psychosis, and makes schools the perfect target.

Here are some of the scattered knives that we must gather together:

  • Weapons:  In the name of freedom, we have failed to regulate weapons that are prefaced with the word assault.  Nicholas Krisof makes the case for safety brilliantly and beautifully here.
  • Media:  Our media—TV, movies, video games—glorify mass destruction, equating it with immeasurable power and victory.
  • Masculinity:  That same media hold the young white man as both hero and anti-hero, wielding the weapons of destruction.  Our imagined worlds are painted by the anxieties, fears, and needs of young men in search of identity—and we need to help them find a healthier one.  See Wendy Gilbert’s post about the Newtown shooting and masculinity here.
  • Mental Health Care:  It is abundantly clear that we need to remove the stigma from mental illness and find ways to support families struggling with children who suffer from it.  Their only options appear to be muddling along or having their child charged with a crime so that a jail will take them—which is clearly not the best option for the child.  Which leaves…
  • Mothers Coping Alone:  Mothers are taught to look to ourselves, and ourselves alone, to carry the full weight of a child’s care.  Over time, we learn that we cannot do it alone, and we begin to trust others, to trust societal systems.  Still.  We ask ourselves, constantly, if we are doing it right, if we are doing enough.  A mother alone cannot handle a child like Adam Lanza; that is also abundantly clear.  And, there is this…
  • Collective Damage:  Sometimes more than one person in a family isn’t mentally and emotionally healthy.  Sometimes parents damage their children, or lead them into harm, consciously or unconsciously.  Sometimes a child’s only hope comes from outside the family.

We Cannot Abide This

The parents who sent their children to school that day had many questions about their welfare:  Should I have kept him back another year?  Was he too sick to send to school today?  Does her teacher understand that she needs more focus in this area?  No parent was prepared for this.

A parent must release a child into the world, knowing that there are inherent risks in living.  Getting mowed down while in school should not be one of those risks.

We.  Cannot.  Abide.  This.

3 thoughts on “Pieces

  1. Angela Mason says:

    I cannot agree with you more about the influence (bad) of media. I have watched children over my 10 years as an educator grow increasingly violent and impatient and I honestly believe it is a result of two things (generally, not in ALL cases, of course), the first is a lack of parental involvement in their lives and the second is the bombardment of aggressive media…video games, tv, movies, etc. It breeds a certain kind of nonchalance that is extremely dangerous…


  2. Elizabeth Hall Magill says:

    Thanks, Angie. Your comments as an educator are extremely valuable to this conversation: We all need to be listening to what teachers and administrators have to say. I am deeply grateful to you and to all who work within the school system to keep our children safe and to help them grow and learn.

    The teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook are heroines. It is now becoming a part of every (underpaid, extremely hard-working, selfless in countless ways) teacher’s unwritten job description to prepare for something like this. That should not be the case; a teacher should be able to teach without fearing for her life or the lives of the children she seeks to empower and educate.


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