I am always amazed at the true believers who can use their faith to get through life’s most unfathomable tragedies. There are some, I’m sure, who are using their faith to get through the horrific mass murder that claimed the lives of twenty 6- and 7-year old school children last week in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
I don’t have that kind of faith. It’s a curse, to be sure, but I’m stuck with the power of rational thought, and it leads me to ask the kind of questions that faith cannot endure.
And so, instead, I’m left with a heavy heart that weeps and moans and, not infrequently, curses the real world of which I am a part. My colleagues refer to me as “Grumpy Ed.” It’s a moniker that I freely acknowledge fits, even if I wish it didn’t.
But I’m not blind to the power of faith. I see that those who have the abiding belief in a loving and merciful God somehow find strength in that belief. They pray for strength to get through the calamities that befall us all at one time or another (albeit few as brutally cruel as last week’s), and, in many instances, through their prayers they find a way to endure.
A friend of mine preaches the “half-full” approach as an antidote to my grumpiness. He claims that in most things the glass can be seen as half empty or half full and urges me to opt for the half-full view of the particular circumstances at hand. It’s not the kind of faith of true believers, but it would be a way to see “silver linings” more readily.
So, what would the “half-full” view of the Newtown massacres be?
Well, I don’t think it would focus on the fact that the killings occurred in the midst of the holiday season, even, perhaps, as many of the victims were putting together their wish lists for Santa. Nope. That definitely isn’t a half-full view of the tragedy.
I suppose it might be to note that none of the murdered children were my relatives or relatives of friends or even acquaintances of colleagues. It didn’t hit close to home, in other words. The “storm” missed me and mine.
That might be a “half-full” view for some, but it isn’t for me.
A more acceptable “half-full” view for me for would be to envision lessons learned by all of us that result in a better, certainly safer, world for our children to grow up in.
And, to be sure, in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, political and community leaders are mouthing those kinds of sentiments. President Obama seemed genuinely committed to finding ways to avoid a repeat of this kind of event in his tearful remarks following the killings, and he continued that theme at the memorial service later in the weekend and in his appointment of a task force (headed by Vice-President Biden) to study the matter and come up with real solutions.
But his remarks have lacked specifics, albeit he finally seems willing to push for renewed efforts to control the availability of these grotesque killing machines that the NRA believes all Americans have a constitutional right to own. And he wasn’t all that clear about how we might better identify and treat those in our society who are mentally disturbed or are otherwise susceptible to the kind of action that the deranged, suicidal killer engaged in last week.
So here comes my half-empty perspective again.
What can we learn and what can we do?
More control over the ownership of guns would probably be a good start, but the likelihood of meaningful reform in that area is bleak. First of all, the NRA can be expected to oppose any restriction on the sale of guns of any kind. Moreover, it isn’t entirely clear that any restrictions that could get through Congress would have much impact. Guns are part of America’s culture. For many, gun ownership and the use of guns is a way of life. And, as the Supreme Court has recently confirmed, ownership of them is constitutionally protected.
So the likelihood is that any gun control legislation that actually gets enacted into law, assuming that anything in that area is even possible, will be full of loopholes such that those who want to get guns that can kill dozens of human beings in a matter of minutes will be just as able to do so as they are now.
More focused efforts to identify those individuals who are mentally ill to the point of being capable of a Newtown-type horror would be great, but look out for the objections of civil libertarians (and the ACLU) if we get into large-scale violations of privacy rights and the like. And, anyway, most of these people aren’t especially noteworthy until they actually “go postal.”
But even if they are identified, providing them with meaningful help will require a major commitment of public resources at a time when the big push is to reduce government spending. Indeed, many who were institutionalized for mental illness have been released in recent decades far sooner than they had been in the past, primarily to save government funds (a movement that Ronald Reagan initiated during his presidency).
Am I sounding grumpy again? Sorry. Half-full … half-full … .
Well, here’s one idea. We could care more about each other. I know it’s wholly idealistic, even Christian, to suggest such a thing, but couldn’t we, as a society, dedicate ourselves to treating those who are fighting demons or otherwise struggling to find their way? Couldn’t we seek to reduce the amount of pain in their day-to-day existence? Couldn’t we resolve to leave no one with the despair of hopelessness?
I have no idea if caring more for each other would reduce the amount of violence in our society or would lessen the likelihood of Newtown-like tragedies. But I do think it would more fully embody the true spirit of Christmas and might be a step towards rediscovering the joys of giving, not receiving, and of loving, not hating.
And it would be a way to honor the Newtown victims without having to rely on a merciful and loving God.
Merry Christmas, everyone.