Responses to tragedy shouldn't cause more grief for the grief-stricken
For the vast majority of Americans, the murder of twenty first graders and six educators in Newtown, CT stirred a deep sadness. For many, there is the question of what to do about it.
The devastation Hurricane Sandy brought to New Jersey and New York led to relief efforts and fund-raising, responses that are both appropriate and much appreciated. There has been some fund-raising in the wake of the Newtown massacre, but without real need or purpose, since Newtown is a pretty affluent little town and no amount of money will bring those children or their teachers back.
Some of us have begun to speak out, to demand our laws be changed, an imperfect response, but one that, in my opinion, has some logic to it.
But many people felt it necessary to act in other ways, to display their grief in an almost narcissistic manner.
Understanding that these people probably mean well, in their own way, I wasn’t surprised to see two Associated Press stories on this phenomenon. One story reports that the town leaders of Newtown has asked well-wishers to please stop sending stuff to Newtown. The town is being overwhelmed with the detritus of grief – the stuffed toys and the mountains of flowers that are now decomposing. They just can’t handle it all.
Many schools around the country – including some featured on our own local TV stations – have been making little paper snowflakes and sending them by the bushel to Newtown. Newtown says: STOP. Too much. Enough is enough.
Newtown gets small mountain of toy donations almost daily. Again, the town is being overwhelmed and really wishes we would just STOP it.
Newtown’s plan for dealing with the tons of condolence debris is a novel one. First Selectman Pat Llodra says he has ordered the town’s public works department to collect it all. The organic material, such as the flowers, will be composted. The inorganic material will be shredded. That shredded material will be mixed with concrete and used in the construction of a monument. The compost will be used for the garden around the monument. But they have much more material than they need.
Some people actually took it upon themselves to hop in their cars and drive to Newtown, to offer their condolences to anyone in Newtown they could grab. Again, STOP. Why do these people think that the families of the victims, or for that matter, any Newtown resident wants an invasion of well-meaning strangers pushing into their lives, invading their grief?
Newtown had more than enough to deal with the parasites in the news media, as ghoulish reporters like Ann Curry scoured the town for crying people to put on camera. Shame on the media for turning their grief into a circus, and in many respects, causing that circus to continue by provoking so many unwelcome gestures. As the funerals commenced, local officials told the media it was time to go.
Over Christmas, Newtown did receive a very welcome contingent of visitors – police from nearby jurisdictions came in to spell the exhausted, stressed out Newtown Police.
We see variations of the narcissism of grief appear after every such tragedy. The mounds of flowers. The messages to the dead. The candles. Song writers writing ballads, conveniently available for sale on CD.
Sure, we all want to do something. But I think this impulse to inject yourself into the picture, to put unwelcome burdens on the grieving, is both wrong and profoundly stupid.
Instead, let’s focus on what needs to be done. We must demand the Congress reinstate the ban on assault weapons, perhaps even stronger and far reaching than the ban that expired in 2004. We need to limit the magazine capacity of weapons all weapons that are sold. We need to end the loophole that allows private sales of firearms without background checks. And that’s for starters.
We need to start thinking about the Second Amendment and whether it says what it says, or what the NRA and the current Supreme Court thinks it says. If the NRA and Supremes are right, we need to be thinking about a 26th Amendment liberating us from the tyranny of gun violence.
We need to stop cutting the funding for mental health treatment programs.
And we need to stop vilifying school teachers to honor the memory of those six who died to save the children under their care. And let’s include other public workers. How can you think ill of firefighters after the ambush of volunteer firefighters in Webster NY that led to four of them being shot, two fatally, by a maniac?
Enough with the stuffed bears from Wal-Mart and the flowers and paper snowflakes and cheesy ballads. Yes, we need to do something, and soon, but let’s do something that will actually begin to address the fact that in the United States, more so than anywhere else in the world, more guns mean more murders. More than 31,000 a year and climbing. That’s not speculation. That’s fact.