I see people trying to make sense of this tragedy, people calling for stricter gun control laws, people claiming mental illness awareness needs to expand. I searched for “Ryan Lanza” on Facebook and later switched my search to “Adam Lanza” when news emerged that the wrong brother was initially blamed for the crime. I am reading about 20 elementary school students dead, and 27 dead total, and I think back to my own elementary school days, when I was so innocent, so much kinder than I am now, when I befriended the new Chinese kid who couldn’t speak any English despite our language barriers because it seemed like the right thing to do, and had him come over my house, where he needed to write his thoughts on an easel because he still didn’t know how to verbalize my language.
I remember crying during second-grade basketball games when I missed shots, pretending like I was physically hurt. These memories return to me now because fake injuries, not bullets and deaths, are what elementary schoolers should cry about. They are supposed to be innocent and naive and waiting for Santa Claus to come through the chimney. They are supposed to embrace people who are different just because it seems like the nice thing to do. They are supposed to learn from teachers who have dedicated their lives to children, not learn what it’s like to see several of their teachers die. They are supposed to go to recess and play four square and tell one of their buddies to tell a cute girl’s friend that they think the girl is pretty. They are supposed to have their lives ahead of them, to be shielded at least to an extent from life’s pain, to not have to deal with shit like this — friends dead, teachers dead, cousins and daughters and brothers and parents, at least 27 of them dead — after witnessing events they will never be able to unsee. Obviously, life isn’t always perfect. Some five-year olds have dealt with circumstances I couldn’t imagine. But I am of the mind that we should stick innocence in a ziplock bag and into a refrigerator, attempting to preserve it as long as possible.
There is, so sadly, nothing we can do about this fact: At any moment in our lives, we are one complete stranger’s unfathomable mistake away from becoming a victim. We can arrive at work on an otherwise routine day and have our building blown up by a suicide bomber. We can be operating our car sober on the highway and get hit by a drunk driver. We can attend opening night of a movie and have our brains blown out by someone we don’t know. We can kiss our children goodbye and never see them alive again.
I have a fear of heights that many people cannot understand. I am so afraid that my palms sweat every time I stand on the second floor of a mall. Why? I don’t know where the fear originated. But every time I stand on the second floor of a mall, or anywhere else high where I am not surrounded on all sides by barriers (for example, I’m fine flying airplanes), I think to myself, “If someone ever pushed me, I could die.” To calm down, I think that nobody would ever do that. Yet these senseless killings remind me that my fear has a basis, however minuscule. Some sick people out there murder people who have never sinned against them. Somebody out there might see a 25-year old standing on the edge of a mall railing and push him over, just like somebody opened fire on a classroom of kindergartners this morning.
I drove home to eat lunch today, just in hopes of seeing my little brothers. They had not gotten home from school, though. Their classmates were walking home on sidewalks everywhere I looked, smiling to each other, chatting with each other, walking home, maybe to play video games, or to get ready for dance class, or to do homework, or to wait until their fathers got home so they could watch the Celtics-Rockets game together. I watched my brothers’ season-opening basketball games the other night. They both played well given their various roles, but maybe the point isn’t how well they performed. Maybe the point is that one day, they might perform a lot better. Their peaks are ahead of them.
Somebody in Connecticut robbed the world of so many peaks today, so much innocence, so many unborn memories, not just for the 27 dead or the 600 students at the school, but for all their friends and families too.
There will be a time to fight for change, to advocate for stricter gun control or better mental illness awareness, to explore other ways we can protect society from experiencing more horror like this in the future. But I don’t think that time is now. Not today. Use this event to inspire improvement, please, by all means. But first, use it to motivate appreciation. Go home, kiss your family members, tell your loved ones how much you care for them. Somewhere deep inside of us remains the second-grader who embraced our new Chinese classmate despite the language barrier. We have hardened since then, become more cynical, less open to new joys. We have reached the part of life where we understand how difficult it can be. We experienced our innocence to the fullest and then it slowly erased as our eyes opened to the world’s harshness. Those kids should have had more time to fulfill their innocence, they should have lived until they were hardened, until they became parents and could kiss their own children before their children went off to school.
Youth is equivalent to hope and possibilities and not-yet-jaded outlooks on life. Youth is staying awake all night on Christmas Eve, trembling about what you might find underneath the tree the following day. Youth is standing in the shower and thinking about the girl you have a crush on, how she smiled at you during lunch period, how she walked next to you in the halls. Youth is jumping on a trampoline with friends and playing in a wiffle ball league on weekends. Youth is the beginning of a life worth living.
I will never understand how anybody could fathom using a rifle to take that away.