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They huddled terrified against each other, the way Annamaria clutches my legs when a stranger gets too close.  Out of all of Sandy Hook's nightmare images that's the one that stays with me, the one that haunts my days and chills my dreaming nights.  They held their friends and closed their eyes and hoped the bad man would go away. But he didn't.

Eleven years ago I was in New York during the 9/11 attacks. Seven years ago I tried to make sense of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. This one is harder. Atrocities committed for some religious or political cause, bad weather, bureaucratic incompetence: horrible as they are, they are a recognized if not loved part of our lives. This feels more like a great gaping wound in the order of things, a Rorschach blot whose every explanation only leads us further astray.

The usual suspects have weighed in with their favorite solution: we need more (Christian) God in our schools. They forget or conveniently ignore the October 2006 shootings at the West Nickel Mines Amish School and the April 2012 massacre at Oikos University. School prayer didn't stop Andrew Kehoe from killing 38 students at a Bath, Michigan elementary school in 1927: neither did it discourage Walter Seifert from slaughtering 8 students at a Cologne, Germany Catholic school in 1964. 

Some have focused not on the shooter but on his weapons. Calls have gone out to ban high-capacity magazines and assault weapons and to implement stricter background checks. Others recommend fighting firepower with firepower and arming school staff, alongside measures like bulletproof glass and retractable security doors.  It's unclear how these new protective steps are to be funded or how Nancy Lanza, a well-liked pillar of her community, might have failed even the most rigorous background check.  It is clear that a 1994-2004 ban on assault weapons had little effect on crime, thanks largely to loopholes which rendered it toothless.

Others have suggested we need to do something about those damn crazy people.  Senator Joseph Lieberman asked "Is there enough mental health help available for [troubled] kids?" while Forbes columnist Larry Bell suggested we "seriously rethink the policies that led to emptying our mental treatment facilities a half-century ago and leaving millions of severely disordered people untreated." While Adam Lanza's medical history is still unclear there's no doubt that he, like every other child in his wealthy suburban community, had ready access to mental health care -- certainly as good as anything which would be offered by any government program.

In the end, much of this discussion is just whistling past the graveyard.  We offer "answers" so we can pretend there are solutions. Sandy Hook terrifies us like SIDS, like childhood cancer, like all the terrible things that can happen when we least expect them.  It reminds us  our greatest treasure can be taken from us despite all our efforts. If you think toddlers are scared of monsters you should talk to their parents. 

And yet despite all that fear we keep going.  We hold our children close, then send them out into the world with all its glories and its terrors.  We wait for the future with  anticipation and dread, wondering what dreams and nightmares will come true. If the worst happens we will mourn. But amidst our pain we will remember the joy and we will count ourselves blessed for the time we had. We will say, as Robbie Parker said of his murdered daughter Emilie, "This world is a better place because she has been in it."

Through this long cold winter may we find peace in the darkness, and may we we always remember the light.

Last modified on

Writer, columnist, and interviewer Kenaz Filan is an initiate of Societe La Belle Venus #2. Her most recent book The Power of the Poppy was published by Inner Traditions in 2011.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 24 December 2012

    K -- this is a lovely and striking post on a subject that's almost impossible to write about. Thank you.

    However, I must protest this line:
    "While Adam Lanza's medical history is still unclear there's no doubt that he, like every other child in his wealthy suburban community, had ready access to mental health care -- certainly as good as anything which would be offered by any government program."

    There is, indeed a *great deal of doubt* about that. How, exactly, do we know what care Adam had available to him? I live in a "wealthy suburban community" -- and have no help whatsoever for my ongoing mental health issues, due to a lack of health insurance. As a mother with two sons on the autism spectrum and one with ADD, I can assure you that we could *indeed* use much better mental health care -- in Newtown, Forest Grove (my town) and across the nation.

    I also *do* believe (though a gun owner myself) that assault weapons and large capacity ammo magazines should be banned, simply to reduce the force multiplication available to the (obviously) deranged mind.

  • Selina Rifkin
    Selina Rifkin Friday, 28 December 2012

    I like this post very much. Indeed bad things happen, and we would be well served to maintain our religious and spiritual practices to help us cope with what we cannot control.

    I work in Newtown. Nancy Lanza had plans to commit her son to an institution and it is suspected that this is what set him off. There has been (to my knowledge) no information about what kind of access her son had to these weapons. Were they locked up? did he know the combo or where the key was located? I'll add that his dad was an international banker, so I doubt money was the issue in this particular case. But there have been numerous other mass shootings, and I would not doubt that inadequate mental health care played a role in some of them.

    But even mental health care that is adequate by modern medical standards is questionable IMO. SSRIs can cause suicidal and violent ideation and blackouts, in some people, and young people are especially vulnerable.

    I respectfully disagree with Anne about the "assault weapons" ban. But I won't go into the reasons here.

  • Kenaz Filan
    Kenaz Filan Monday, 24 December 2012

    If you were living on $250k+ in alimony annually (as Nancy Lanza was) you'd have very little problem finding therapists to treat your children and doctors to medicate them. Everything I have seen to date suggests that Nancy and Peter Lanza were dedicated parents who did everything they could for their troubled son - which, presumably, would include getting him professional help.

    Could we use better mental health care across the nation? Certainly. And I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep if high-capacity magazines were banned. But I also grew up in a rural area where turkey hunting was popular, and I know that Adam Lanza could have accomplished his mission quite well with a 12 gauge over/under and a few dozen shells. And as a former mental health consumer myself, I'm not entirely sure there's a pill or a therapy which can stop someone who has decided to become an Adam Lanza or a James Holmes.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Monday, 24 December 2012

    I didn't know that about Ms. Lanza, I bow to the weight of your superior experience.

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